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Australian Walker Tallent Scoops First Bird’s Nest Win

Reuters in Beijing

Australian Jared Tallent won the first athletics event at China’s new “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium on Friday when he claimed victory in the IAAF 20km race walk.

The 23-year-old Commonwealth bronze medallist received a huge roar from the 3,000 spectators rattling around in the 91,000-seater showpiece venue for this year’s Beijing Olympics when he crossed the line after one hour, 20 minutes and 11 seconds.

“Fantastic,” Tallent said. “It’s very special to be the first winner in the Bird’s Nest, I couldn’t be happier. This is my first big international win and I’m hoping to do it again in August.”

Local hopes had rested on Wang Hao finding something extra over the last few kilometres but the Inner Mongolian teenager had to settle for second place despite a personal best time of 1:20.25.

“Everybody was thinking about winning the first gold medal for China at the Bird’s Nest but I’m happy with my performance,” said the 18-year-old. “I’ll go away and work hard and come back and win a medal, maybe even a gold, in August.”

Mexican Eder Sanchez, who finished fourth in the 20km at last year’s world championships, was third in 1:20.57, his best time of the season.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has admitted that there is a slight health risk for athletes competing for more than an hour on the most polluted days in the Chinese capital.

On Friday, the smog was not as bad as it had been earlier in the week and Tallent said it had not had any impact on his race.

“The pollution didn’t affect me at all, it looks pretty hazy, but it was not problem at all, I felt great,” he told reporters.

Sanchez said the air quality was similar to that in his native Mexico and his eyes had been watering after 15km.

“It hurt my performance a little,” he said.

This was the first opportunity for the Chinese public to get inside the $500-million stadium and locals began arriving hours before the 9am race start.

A great deal of Chinese prestige rests on the Aug. 8-24 Games being a success and this has not been lost on the people of Beijing.

“I’m so anxious that there are still some things to be finished, it’s a little bit messy inside and outside,” said Han Huiying, a local community worker who arrived at 7am.

“There’s only about a hundred days to go and I want them to fix this because I think the Olympics has to be perfect.”

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