When Kimberly Garcia opened her 2022 campaign, it offered little insight as to what the rest of the year had in store.
Her runner-up finish at the South American Race Walking Championships in Lima last year was a solid enough performance, but she was also nowhere near her peak at that stage.
Sure enough, as the season progressed, so too did the Peruvian racewalker.
She made it onto the podium at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat, then won in Rio Maior, and followed it three weeks later with a 20km national record in La Coruna.
By the time she reached the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, Garcia was in the form of her life. Within the space of one week, she claimed gold medals in the 20km and 35km events and instantly became a sporting icon in her home country, as well as announcing her arrival as the world’s best race walker.
Nine months on from her ground-breaking achievement on the streets of Eugene, Garcia returned to action at the Dudinska 50 – the first World Athletics Race Walking Tour Gold meeting of 2023.
This time, the eyes of the race-walking world were fixed on Garcia. This time, she lived up to – and exceeded – all expectations in her first outing of the year.
The 29-year-old made an early break from the rest of the pack in the women’s 35km. Despite it being just her third-ever outing over the distance, Garcia judged her effort to perfection.
Her pace only dipped slightly during the third 10-kilometre section, but she pulled it back in the final few kilometres and went on to finish in a world record of 2:37:44*.
“I knew I was in good shape and that I could challenge the world record,” said Garcia. “The first 20km was ok and at a good pace, then I started to tire and the wind got stronger. Thankfully I found some extra energy for the final five kilometres.
“It’s a big thing for me to achieve this record,” added Garcia, who also confirmed she will defend both of her titles at this year’s World Championships. “I still think I can go faster, maybe at the World Championships. I’m not planning any more 35km races before Budapest.”
Born: 19 October 1993. Coach: Andres Chocho.
Race walking has been Garcia’s thing for a long time – 24 years, and counting.
She first took up the sport at the age of five, drawn towards it by her brothers and cousins, who formed a race walking club in their home city of Huancayo.
Sitting in the central highlands of Peru, at an altitude of 3,200m, it’s a place that proved an ideal starting point to build an endurance champion. As a kid, Garcia would watch the Olympics and World Championships on TV with her father. “My dream was to win a medal,” she says. “And I have followed that dream.”
At the age of 13, she began competing in schools championships and she made international appearances at underage events in the years that followed, including at the World U18 Championships in 2009.
Race walking is typically not a lucrative pursuit, and Garcia needed help from those around her to chase the dream through her late teens and early 20s.
“When I first started it was my family chipping in to support me,” she says. “Eventually it was private companies chipping in with sponsorship so I could do training camps, to get that exposure to compete with the best in the world.”
She finished 10th at the World U20 Championships in 2012 and made her senior World Championships debut the year after, finishing 32nd in Moscow.
Two years later in Beijing, she failed to finish the 20km event but at the 2016 Rio Olympics she improved to 14th in 1:32:09. In London a year later she was seventh.
She went to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 thinking she could be a contender. She left it downbeat, disillusioned, having stepped off the course around the 15km mark, her body going into shutdown after she tried – in vain – to keep up with the world’s best.
Following her disappointment in the Japanese capital, Garcia linked up with Ecuadorian racewalker Andres Chocho and joined his group of world-class racewalkers.
For most of the following year, they worked remotely, chatting on Zoom and sharing videos for technical feedback.
“I admire him as a person and as an athlete,” she says. “We connected well from the get-go. Confidence and trust is important, and he asked me what I wanted. We started with modest goals, but he said I had what it took to achieve (more).”
Having finished third at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22 last year, Garcia began to harbour medal ambitions for Oregon.
In the build-up to the World Championships, she went to Ecuador to spend 40 days training under Chocho’s guidance. She improved each week, and a month before she raced in Oregon, her goals shifted.
“That’s when I really started to believe I could win,” she says.
The rest is history – and she made plenty of that with her double triumph at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
Before those championships, Peru had never won a medal of any colour at a senior global athletics championships.
Garcia not only earned her country’s first global medal, she scooped gold – twice. She also became the first woman to win two race walking titles at a single global championships.
And so, a Peruvian sporting icon was born.
Kimberly Garcia’s PBs
5000m race walk: 22:57.4 (2011)
10,000m race walk: 42:56.97 (2018)
10km race walk: 43:23 (2017)
20km race walk: 1:26:58 (2022)
35km race walk: 2:37:44 (2023)
35km race walk all-time list
2:37:44 Kimberly Garcia (PER) Dudince, 2023
2:37:46 Margarita Nikiforova (RUS) Chelyabinsk, 2022
2:38:24 Klavdiya Afanasyeva (RUS) Sochi, 2019
2:39:16 Maria Perez (ESP) Lepe, 2022
2:39:51 Darya Golubechkova (ANA) Voronovo, 2021
2:40:03 Katarzyna Zdzieblo (POL) Eugene, 2022
2:40:06 Liu Hong (CHN) Dudince, 2023
2:40:37 Qieyang Shijie (CHN) Eugene, 2022
2:40:59 Bai Xueying (CHN) Huangshan, 2023
2:41:00 Ma Li (CHN) Xi’an, 2022
*Subject to the usual ratification procedure