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Garcia Leon’s gold tarnished by course error at Pan American Games

Kimberly Garcia Leon of Peru thought she had smashed the women's 20km world record at the Pan American Games, only to realize that the course was too short.

Ato Stephens

Kimberly Garcia Leon of Team Peru
Kimberly Garcia Leon of Team Peru at the 2022 World Athletics Championships. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images for World Athletics

SANTIAGO, Chile (Oct. 28) — Kimberly Garcia Leon of Peru clinched gold in the women’s 20-kilometer race walk at the Pan American Games on Sunday, but the victory was marred by a significant oversight: the course was several kilometers short. This error led to the nullification of times and the loss of crucial ranking points for the Paris Olympics.

A Record-Breaking Finish, But Not Quite

Garcia, the 2022 world champion and 2019 Lima Pan Am Games silver medalist, crossed the finish line in a time of 1:12:26. Had the course been accurate, this would have shattered Jiayu Yang of China’s world record of 1:23:49.

Read more: Results: David Hurtado takes Pan American Games 20km race walk gold

“I was prepared for anything; the goal was the gold medal,” Garcia, who was delighted to improve on her runner-up place at Lima 2019, said after the win on Sunday. “I would have been a little sad if I had won the silver.

“I dedicate this victory to all Peruvians and to those who have been here cheering for me,” she added.

Officials only realized the mistake after Garcia’s finish. Ecuador’s Glenda Morejon secured silver, and another Peruvian, Evelyn Inga, took bronze.

“The course was ideal for us. The flat surface and the weather have been perfect,” said Inga. “Unlike other events where it gets too hot and we need more hydration, in this case, the circuit has helped us a lot.”

Impact on Athletes and Rankings

The error has significant implications for athletes vying for Olympic qualification. Canada’s Evan Dunfee, a bronze medalist in the 50km race walk at the Tokyo Olympics, told Reuters.

“For some of those women looking to qualify for Paris, that’s just really disappointing because it is an opportunity lost.”

The men’s race, which was about to start, was delayed for over an hour to remeasure the route. Ecuador’s Alexander Hurtado eventually won the men’s gold, finishing just four seconds ahead of world championship bronze medalist Caio Bonfim of Brazil.

Pan American Games 2023 Organizers and Oversight

The Santiago Organising Committee issued a statement, placing the blame squarely on the Pan American Athletics Association (APA) for the measurement error.

“The official race times are null and void due to a measurement problem that is the exclusive responsibility of the APA,” the statement read.

Both the organizing committee and the Pan American Sport Organisation were quick to lay blame but offered no immediate solutions. At the time of reporting, both the Associated Press and Reuters revealed that their request for an explanation were not met.

PHOTO: Andy Lyons/Getty Images for World Athletics

About The Author

Ato Stephens

Ato Stephens is a former Trinidad and Tobago 400 metres specialist, who is a two-time CAC Championships Silver medalist, NCAA Indoor champion and Olympian.

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