The women’s 20km race walk at the European Race Walking Team Championships in Podebrady on Sunday (16) should bring an intriguing three-way battle for the individual title.
The event will be streamed live through the European Athletics Facebook page on Sunday courtesy of the Czech Athletics Federation and live results will appear here. Final entries can also be found here.
After a low-key couple of years Maria Perez from Spain and Italy’s Antonella Palmisano are back in form with the Olympic Games in Tokyo - although the race walking and marathon events will be held in more benign conditions in Sapporo - only weeks away.
But based on pedigree and recent races only Meryem Bekmez from Turkey is in the kind of shape to split the two senior champions. The European U18 and U20 champion set a personal best 1:28:48 in late March in Antalya, a 36 second boost on her national record.
By her own reckoning, Palmisano came back from her ‘year of darkness’ in 2019 to win in Podebrady last October in 1:28:40, her fastest time since taking bronze at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships. Palmisano was also a winner when Podebrady last staged the European Race Walking Team Championships in 2017.
But the Italian will have a struggle with Perez, the walker who unexpectedly won that title in the German capital almost three years ago now.
The Spaniard chalked up an impressive season’s best of 1:28:26 at the Spanish Championships in March to win by more than two minutes. And to underline her strength, Perez also walked a national record of 2:44:17 for the 35km race walk one month prior.
Team gold looks headed towards either Spain or Italy. The Spanish ranks include Laura Garcia-Caro and Raquel Gonzalez who won individual silver and bronze in Alytus two years ago when Perez was their distant third counter in 11th. Joining Palmisano on the Italian team are Valentina Trapletti and Mariavittoria Becchetti who boast season’s bests of 1:29:58 and 1:30:05 respectively.
Any spoke in that wheel should come from Ukraine. Their team which includes Lyudmila Olyanovska, Hanna Shevchuk and Olena Sobchuk have all either dipped under 1:30 already this year - or in Sobchuk’s case - are just one second over.
The reigning champion Živilė Vaiciukevičiūtė, who triumphed on home soil in Alytus, will not be defending her title after unexpectedly announcing her retirement last year at the age of 24. The Lithuanian team in Podebrady does include her sister Monika and veteran Brigita Virbalyte.
The programme also includes the newly-introduced women’s 35km race walk in which Antigoni Drisbioti has the best time of the year by more than five minutes over the next competitor.
The Greek’s best time of 2:50:04 represents a decent clocking but lurking and ready to strike are Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi and former world 50km race walk record-holder Ines Henriques from Portugal who also won at that distance in sweltering conditions at the 2018 European Championships.
Giorgi has the fastest lifetime best at 2:43:43 and is seeking back-to-back triumphs at the European Race Walking Team Championships after winning the 50km race walk in Alytus two years ago in a European record of 4:04:50.
Fellow Greek Kiriaki Filtisakou and Spaniards Maria Juarez and Julia Takacs, the latter a bronze medallist at 50km race walk in Berlin 2018, should also feature in the 23-strong field.
The U20 women’s 10km is the one race of the day that could bring a home win. Eliška Martinkova walked 45:52 at Dudince in March to hack off a huge near four-minute improvement on her best from 2020.
If not the Czech, Lizaveta Hryshkevich from Belarus is next closest with 46:58 recorded just last month on home soil.
The rest of the field lag by two minutes and more behind the impressive favourites.