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Athletes ‘break’ 20km walk world record after course measured incorrectly

Peru’s Kimberly García thought she set the world record in the women’s 20 kilometres walk race at the Pan American Games. She later found out she didn’t.

Organizers of the largest multi-sports in the continent said in a statement that the times of the race were annulled due to “a measuring problem” in Santiago’s O’Higgins Park. They blamed the Association of Pan American Athletics for the mistake.

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Athletes believe the distance they actually completed was around 17km.

The mistake adds to Santiago’s woes in the organization of the Pan American Games, which started on 20 October and finish on 5 November.

García finished her race on a cold and damp morning in 1 hr 12 min 26 sec. The record belongs to China’s Jiayu Yang in 1:23:49. García was the 20km world champion in 2019, when she recorded her personal best of 1:26:58.

“We realized it since the first kilometre. The time did not coincide with the distance. It was more about us focusing on our feelings not to lose control,” Garcia said after the race. “It didn’t affect myself alone, I wanted the Pan American record. Other girls wanted a spot in the Olympic Games. It is a shame that will not happen because the weather, everything was fit for good timings.”

Eleven other competitors seemingly finished their race below the world record.

“We do control our pace a lot and right out of the gate, in our first lap, we say the pace was too strong. It was quicker than the men’s,” said Brazil’s Viviane Lyra, who finished fourth. “We knew there was something strange, so our goal wasn’t even taking the timing into consideration.”

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The Pan American Games organization said it filled its role by hiring Marcelo Ithurralde, an expert commissioned by the association, to take the measurements for the race.

“He did not take accurate measurements of the route the athletes took during the race,” organizers said. “We deeply regret the inconvenience for the athletes, their coaches, the public and the attending press, but this situation cannot be attributed to the Organizing Committee.”

The Association of Pan American Athletics didn’t respond to a request for comment. Garcia still celebrated her gold medal. Organizers didn’t confirm whether her result stands despite the measuring issue.

Organization problems at the Pan American Games have included trash scattered outside competition venues in the four days after the opening ceremony, threats of a strike from the company providing security for the event and a leak in the handball venue.

The leak cut short Saturday’s women’s handball match between Chile and Brazil. The Brazilians won 30-10 and will play the final against Argentina.