With rain looming at the 7:30 a.m. start, two dozen of America’s best race walkers (and several foreign stars) gathered Sunday in Santee.
They pronounced the weather “about perfect.”
El Cajon native Nick Christie and Chula Vista’s Miranda Melville defended their 2022 titles in the USA Track & Field 35-Kilometer National Championships. (See results here.)
It poured for about 15 minutes a few circuits into the 35-lap race, and then again briefly 90 minutes after the start.
But Christie, a former Grossmont High hurdler and pole vaulter, was unfazed, calling the cool and wet conditions “really good.”
Winners share kiss: Paul Nestor was photographing the 2021 Race Walking National Championships in Santee when something strange happened.
Due to COVID-19, no spectators were allowed at this year’s event on Feb. 28. So Nestor was surprised as he took pictures of the men’s 50K winner with the women’s 35K winner when someone yelled to the men’s champion: “Give her a kiss!”
“Boy, that’s a little aggressive,” Nestor thought, not to mention it violated social-distancing guidelines.
Little did he know that the men’s champion, Grossmont High graduate Nick Christie, 29, was dating the women’s champion, Robyn Stevens. Christie, a longtime El Cajon resident, recently moved north to Vacaville to join her.
What are the odds that both would win national titles on the same day?
The couple earned $16,000 for their victories in Santee ($8,000 each), the largest payday of any endurance event in San Diego County, according to event spokesman Dan Cruz.
Both competitors hope to qualify for the summer Olympics, which means each has to be ranked in the top 60 in the world. Stevens is the 49th fastest race walker in the 20K event, while Christie is sitting at 59th in the 50K.
They are planning to compete in the Olympic Team Trials in late June in Eugene, Ore., after which invitations to the summer games will be sent.
Christie and Stevens are clearly a power “walking” couple.
3/1/2021 San Diego Union-Tribune - Metro - eNewspaper
Race walker Lepe back with win
Spring Valley resident keeps eye on making U.S. Olympic team
BY GLAE THIEN SANTEE
After 13 months without competing due to the pandemic and canceled races, Spring Valley’s Celina Lepe returned to race walking and soon experienced a tight calf muscle.
Yet Lepe drew on some inner motivation to prevail with a personal best of 1 hour, 42 minutes, 4 seconds in the women’s 20K invitational on Sunday to put her on track for her Olympic Trials berth secured a year ago.
Lepe’s triumph was part of a race slate that included the USAFT Men’s 50K and Women’s 35K Race Walk Championships on the 1.25K course adjacent to the Trolley Square shopping center.
“The beginning of the race was not so fun,” said Lepe, who improved her personal best by 41 seconds. “My calf was really tight, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I started talking to myself and connected my spirit to my body, and before I knew it, that pain was gone.”
Lepe last competed in the same event conducted in January a year ago. This time, though, given pandemic protocol, no spectators were allowed.
“I started looking at all the other athletes out there, and I wanted to walk next to them,” said Lepe, 25, a Monte Vista High alum. “I’d catch up and say, ‘Good job.’ We all need support out there. Even though they didn’t know it, they were helping me.”
Added backing also came from her boyfriend and fellow competitor, Emmanuel “Natos” Corvera, the two-time defending men’s 20K champion, who has also qualified for the Olympic Trials.
Unlike Lepe, though, Corvera couldn’t overcome injury woes and dropped out with five kilometers to go because of hip and calf pains. This came after he recovered from COVID19 suffered last June.
“I had to change my complete training program then. It was bit frustrating because I felt that I was taking all the proper precautions,” said Corvera, 26, of Spring Valley. “Besides that, how do you train when you don’t have a race as a carrot on the stick?”
On a winning day for couples, two-time women’s 50k champion Robyn Stevens added to her string of victories in the new 35K international distance (3:01:11), and her boyfriend, former El Cajon resident Nick Christie, won the men’s 50K (4:10:53).
“I’m excited for the first official 35K, so I can check that off,” said Stevens, 37, of Vacaville, who is accomplished at both 20K and 50K. “The training’s about the same. Mostly, it was getting back into the rhythm of racing again.”
Former El Cajon resident Katie Burnett was expected to challenge Stevens, but she was disqualified midway through the race.
It is forecast that the 35K will be adopted for men in place of the 50K, still on the next Olympic menu.
“I had to do some soul searching,” said Christie, 29, of Vacaville, who set the American course record (4:09:32) in 2018 but placed third last year (4:27:28). “Last year, I said that was my last 50K ever, but this could be the last 50K (here), and I really wanted to win it.”
Andres Gustafsson, a onetime Coronado resident, was disqualified early in the race, and returning runner-up Matthew Forgues, of Chula Vista, withdrew in the first lap without comment.
Stevens and Christie each earned $8,000.
3/1/2021 San Diego Union-Tribune - Metro - eNewspaper
Thien is a freelance writer
Racewalk.com - Race Walking Photo Stories
National Records in the 75-79 age group for the Women’s 25k (3:36:02), 30k (4:21:26), and 35k (5:06:10) were broken by USATF Southern California and So Cal Track Club member, Darlene Backlund. Darlene also took 5th place, overall, in the Women’s 35k.