08/05/2024   A Coruna and the closest friends


The birth of the Cantones Grand Prix

It was 7pm on May 16, 1987 when Sergio Vázquez's dream turned into reality.
For a few months Sergio, with just three years as president of the Galician Athletics Federation, had decided to promote the specialty of race walking which unfortunately had little implementation in the regional athletics.
These were the years of the full development of walking in Spain, after Jordi Llopart had won the silver medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. Jordi, who had excellent contacts with some legends of this sport (Ernesto Canto, Maurizio Damilano and Bo Gustavsson), talked about it with friends who did not hesitate to participate in this inaugural edition.
Thanks to the enthusiasm of Sergio Vázquez, his charisma, and his managerial ability, he immediately obtained the full financial support of the main administrative bodies of the Xunta, the Provincial Council and the Council of A Coruña, the latter body which from then on will support every edition with determination and without cracks.

My first time at the Cantones
I was invited in 1993, but I couldn't go. The following year my dear friend Domingo Casillas renewed the invitation and I was happy to accept. Maurizio Damilano had told me about the enthusiasm of the organizers with Sergio Vázquez, among whom there was a young collaborator, Dolores Rojas, who was an erupting volcano. You asked something and ten minutes later you had the answer and the possible solution. It was the beginning of a deep friendship that has lasted for over thirty years.
That edition was won by Mikhail Schennikov in 1:20:34. The great Russian athlete, just over two months later, would repeat himself in a memorable event in Helsinki, winning the European Championships with a mark of 1:18:45. At 12km Mikhail looks around, forces his pace and wins undisputed: one of his best races; probaly in my opinion the best ever.
In the women's race, Yelena Nikolayeva won the 10km race in 43:09.
Coruna mon amour
Anyone who knows about racewalking also knows that the writer would not miss the Cantones for all the gold in the world. A unique race, on a route that technically allows you to express speed, but also to walk with wonderfull an excellent technique.
Dolores Rojas always invites high-level judges and it cannot be otherwise. High-level athletes must be equivalent to high-level judgment.
The elite of international race walking judges passed through La Coruña.
All linked by a profound sense of duty, linked to an equally deep sense of collegiality and friendship.
And the Spaniards are second to none when it comes to friendship, collegiality and desire to have fun. The post-race evenings spent with Jordi, Luis, Jorge, Guille and Dolores always had something unforgettable.
In search of “pulpo y pimientos”, which cost a little less than that local delicacy that called  “percebes”, we ended up staying up late, spending birthdays, discussing about races and red cards given or not given , watering our discussions with Estrella Galizia. The bravest ones usually linger a little longer with some "gin and tonic" at Kiu in the street parallel to the Hotel Riazor.
This is how the “Coruña mon amour” brotherhood was born.

The fish market
The most beautiful things in the world are those that represent the most important things in the world. From the beginning of my thirty-year experience at the Cantones, friends advised me to wake up early on the Saturday of the race and, to refresh my brain after got on a binge in the previous evening, to go and get some oxygen at the Santa Lucia Market in Praza de Lugo.
The Santa Lucia market is one of the oldest markets in the city, even if the façade is now protected by glass which somewhat hides its historical details. But the interior is enchanting. The area with fish and seafood is a delight for the eyes and a pleasure for the palate.
Fish and seafood are displayed almost alive on the counters. Here you can find everything you need in terms of “pescado” or “marisco”.
I recommend all lovers of seafood and fresh fish to take a tour of this market, so you can get an idea of the delicacies that can be found in the bars and restaurants of Galicia.








No one is a foreigner in La Coruña
Sergio Vázquez told me on my second appearance at the Cantones: "Remember that there will always be a room for you at the Hotel Riazor, because no one is a stranger in La Coruña."
Sergio is no longer with us, but the local management who followed him - Isidoro Hornillos (2008-2021) and Iván Sanmartín (in office since 2021) - in addition to maintaining a high level of participation in the Cantones, continue to follow the guideline of creator.

“Gugu” and the Cantones
At the start of the women's race on a beautiful evening on June 6th, the walkers had paid a minute's silence to one of the stars of female race walking who passed away prematurely: Anna Rita Sidoti.
My eyes were teary and my friend Luis noticed it and patted me on the back: "go ahead to turn around place and judge" he told me smiling to give me courage.
Liu Hong (“Gugu”, her nickname given to her by her Italian friends since she trained in Saluzzo for years) had passed the 5km alone in 21:27.
The next 5km she covered in 21:12 and the halfway mark was 42:39.
At the 15km “Gugu” passes in 1:03:41 with an incredible pass on the 5km of 21:02.
But even more incredible is the conclusion with the last 5km in 20:57.
Then there were a few minutes left until 8pm and the new world record (1:24:38) for the women's 20km walk was in the air; all with “negative splits”.
Perhaps led by Anna Rita from up above, “Gugu” was fantastic both in terms of results and walking technique.
It may have been a coincidence, but the China Team with Sandro Damilano had booked dinner at the same restaurant where we judges had booked in Plaza de Portugal (Suso, which is no longer there). But Sandro, who is one of the regulars in La Coruna, is also a fine gourmet.
“Gugu” was beaming, she wanted to celebrate. The digestion of the "mariscos" and the "pulpo" was facilitated with several bottles of fresh Albariño and the champagne offered by "Gugu".
A world record is not an every blessed day thing. This was her night!


World Athletics Heritage
The president of World Athletics, Sebastian Coe, recalled on March 20, 2019, delivering the World Athletics Heritage, that when we are speaking to race walking there are few competitions that equal the importance and history of the Cantones de La Coruña.
The annual Gran Premio Cantones da Coruña which hosted the IAAF World Cup in 2006, is a beacon of excellence.
“No walker can end his career without having competed at the Cantones”
Many fantastic walkers, men and women, have competed in this legendary event during these past editions.
Each of them has contributed generously to making this event the highest point of reference on the global journey, surpassed only by the Olympic Games, and to being ambassadors and spokespersons in all parts of the planet.
If we had to choose a moment or a situation that, beyond the results, could define the essence of Cantones, it would certainly be the phrase that one of the great legends who passed through La Coruña, Jefferson Pérez, left us.
We owe the above sentence to him.
A beautiful and fantastic Club
The writer is truly happy to have been part, for a period of his life, of this beautiful and fantastic Club.
Any athlete who truly loves his specialty should compete at least once at the Cantones.
It is an invitation to do so, and remember that "no one is a stranger in La Coruña".