World record by María Pérez at 35 kilometres and Spanish-Italian dominance. That was the European Race Walking Team Championships in Poděbrady, on warm Sunday of 21 May.
The Spaniards completely dominated both 35km events, taking five of a possible six individual medals and both team events. European champions became Álvaro Martín, who beat the national record, and María Pérez, who broke the world record by half a minute. (More in special report)
In the beginning, both 35 km races developed very similarly. The Spaniards María Pérez and Álvaro Martín took the lead right from the opening meters, and in the first laps groups of three formed behind them.
Pérez's lead grew rapidly and by the middle of the race it was close to four minutes, so she was walking her own race. After the initial free kilometres, she started attacking the world record in a third of the race. After 20 km, she was losing almost a minute to him, 10 km further, only 7 seconds. In the end, she triumphed in 2:37:15, and the record celebrations couldn't have been better when the first congratulators were her team mates. Raquel González won silver in SB 2:45:42 and Cristina Montesinos bronze in personal best 2:45:58.
The Spanish women, of course, also dominated the team competition. The fourth Federica Curiazzi and the fifth Nicole Colombi helped the Italians to silver. Bronze was won by the Ukrainian women, the best of whom was the seventh Vasylyna Sydorchuk.
Martín's position in the men's race was not so clear-cut. The Frenchman Aurélien Quinion kept a close eye on him, he came closest to 12 seconds, but at the 28th kilometre, he had to go to the penalty lane for 3:30 minutes because of third red card had come. Later, Martín achieved victory with a national record of 2:25:35.
"I wanted the race like this - my strategy was to go to the front from the start becasue I wanted to keep the pace from the beginning. Obviously, I was tired in the last kilometres but I am happy for the time. We have a tough hot weather in Spain so any conditions are perfect for me," said Martín.
Another Spain's Miguel Ángel López and Germany's Christopher Linke were fighting for other medals behind the winner. In the end, the latter one was happy with the silver in the national record of 2:27:05, the defeated one was 28 seconds behind (SB 2:27:33).
In addition to the individual podium, Martín with López celebrated the team gold, too. Marc Tur also contributed to the Spanish triumph in eighth place. In particular, the fifth Andrea Agrusti and the sixth Riccardo Orsoni led the Italians to silver. Linke also stood on the podium for the second time, together with his teammates on the bronze position.
Vít Hlaváč had early muscle problems but prevailed and finished the race in 2:49:35 as 27th (33 at the start).
In the women's 20 km race, there was a lot of tactics, so there were seven other names in the front group alongside the two big favorites Ntrismpioti and Palmisano. At the halfway point, the leading pack still counted seven walkers. In the next five circuits, only two competitors dropped out, and with 3 km to go, four were still in the running for medals. Antigoni Ntrismpioti from Greece and Antonella Palmisano from Italy were fighting for the first place, while Lyudmila Olyanovska from Ukraine and Ana Cabecinha from Portugal were a few seconds behind for third.
Both duels were decided in the penultimate round. Ntrismpioti walked away from Palmisano, Cabecinha made up a small gap to Olyanovska and overtook her, both gaining a few-second lead over their rivals. Ntrismpioti celebrated in the final meters and Palmisano tried to catch up with her. In the end, however, the Greek celebrated the triumph in 1:29:17, the Italian remained two seconds behind (SB 1:29:19). Ana Cabecinha comfortably kept the third place (SB 1:29:35), Lyudmila Olyanovska couldn't make the podium with 23 seconds behind (1:29:58).
"I was ready to win. I worked very hard for this performance. Despite the fact that the weather did not help us a lot today, it was very hot, I managed to win and that is the most important thing. We had a very strong group in the front. I spent two months in Australia with a new coach from Australia and the cooperation is going very well," was Ntrismpioti quoted.
Palmisano did not took gold on her own, but the team succeeded. The Italian women, with the help of eighth Valentina Trapletti and eleventh Alexandrina Mihai, dominated the classification by a total difference of four places. The Ukrainians, although Olyanovska was immediately followed by her team mate Olena Sobchuk in the order, remained silver. It was similarly tight in the battle for bronze, which was eventually won by the French.
Eliška Martínková, the only Czech representative took 12th place in season best of 1:33:02, Universiade qualifier.
Massimo Stano started the men's 20-kilometer race quite sharply and thus significantly reduced the room for tactics as in the women's race. However, the Italian Olympic champion was unable to gain more than a few seconds ahead of his pursuers for a long time. At half-way point, his team mate Francesco Fortunato was again in close contact, and in the following laps the Swede Perseus Karlström caught up with both Italians.
Fortunato reacted better to Karlström's attack than Stano, and on the contrary, soon attacked himself. And he was successful, at the 15km intermediate he already had a lead of 6 seconds, which he continued to increase, growing to 28 seconds at the finish line. The Italian won in the European leading time of 1:18:59, the second was the Swedish representative, who added another Poděbrady success in the time of 1:19:27.
"This was the race of my life. It is a personal best, very fast time, very fast course and it is a victory. I cannot be happier. I felt good and came with the strategy to try to get far away from my opponents. I am glad I could manage it in the last kilometres. Around the 15th km, I pushed a little bit more and this was my aim. I just followed my feelings and my team mate Massimo Stano. I preffered to not to watch the times but I felt that it was fast. So I could be focused on just the feelings. I just kept my pace and that was enough to win the race. Today, it was my day. I live for this."
The Spaniards remained below the podium in the individual classification. Alberto Amezcua finished fourth (1:20:24) and Paul McGrath (EU23L 1:21:15) fifth. And they were also unlucky in the team competition. Although Diego García Carrera finished seventh they still narrowly finished with silver. The Italians, with two individual medallists, won the gold in the aggregate by a single position. The Germans took the bronze by a wide margin.
Czech walkers were more than happy. Both broke their personal bests. Adam Zajíček bettered his time by two and a half minutes to 1:26:37 to reach 23rd place. Jaromír Morávek improved by a little bit more than minute and was 27th with 1:27:33. Total of 48 walkers were at the start.
Early in the middle of the women's junior race, the fight for the first place narrowed down to a couple. Soon after Giulia Gabriele broke away from her rival and her lead was growing rapidly. At the finish line, it climbed to one minute, and the Italian woman triumphed in a personal record of 46:42. Aldara Meilán from Spain also quite safely held the silver position in 47:45.
From the Czech point of view, the fight for bronze was very interesting. Ema Klimentová gradually rose from the end of the top ten to the fourth position, and for a while she even found herself in third. She was soon overtaken by the French Ana Delahaie. Nevertheless, Klimentová did not give up despite two red cards and kept up. In the end, however, Delhaie succumbed only in the last circuit who finished in 48:04 (11 seconds earlier than the Czech). However, Klimentová improved her personal record by almost two and a half minutes to 48:15.
Alžběta Franklová, the second Czech in the race, could also be satisfied. She improved her personal record by 53 seconds in 16th place and was in the better half of the starting field (33 female competitors). The girls were unlucky in the fight for a team medal, with a total of 20 points they missed out against the French for the auxiliary criterion. It was close even for the gold, the Spaniards surpassed the Italians overall by only one place.
In the junior 10 km race, Pablo Rodriguez Rojas worked hard at the front. In the end, two opponents got ahead of him, but the Spaniard safely held the third place and, in addition to the bronze, he will also take home a personal record of 42:37 from Poděbrady. Diego Giampaolo dominated the second half of the race and the Italian won without a single red card in a time of 42:16. Eight seconds back was Hayrettin Yildiz from Turkey, he won silver in 42:24, a new PB.
The Spaniards won another team triumph, the whole trio finished among the top three. But considering that there are two representatives scoring here, it was only one place difference in total, as the Italians had a winner and an eighth. The Germans also won the bronze just ahead of the Turks.
foto: Czech Athletic Federation - Soňa Maléterová