Reigning Olympic 50km race walk champion Matej Toth only has one goal in mind when he lines up in the Dudinska 50 in Dudince, Slovakia on 24 October: to achieve the Olympic qualifying standard of 3:50:00.
This time should be comfortably within the Slovakian's compass. He has a lifetime best of 3:34:38 which was set on this course in 2015 - his second of three career victories in the Dudinska 50. Toth also won in 2011 in 3:39:46 and in 2018 in 3:42:46.
But despite the ongoing travel difficulties caused by the pandemic, Toth isn’t banking on this race being a mere time trial. He is expecting strong opposition not only from his European rivals but also from further afield as well.
The Olympic qualifying process was frozen this summer due to the pandemic but the qualifying window for the marathon and race walking events reopened on 1 September. The Dudinska 50, the third European Athletics Race Walking Permit event of the autumn, will be a significant fixture for race walkers with aspirations of competing in the 50km race walk in Sapporo next year.
"The competition should be very good. The Germans, Poles, Irish and some countries that are not members of the European Union have signed up,” said Toth at a recent press conference. "We will see what the security measures will be in connection with the pandemic and whether the walkers will be able to come at all. It is very important to keep the number of starters, but at least the quality should come from EU countries."
Due to the lack of competitive opportunities on the roads this year, Toth has been largely competing on the track at shorter distances in Slovakia this summer but he is still confident about his current shape and fitness heading into Dudince. This will be his first race at the distance since the World Athletics Championships in Doha where he recorded a DNF.
"My form and well-being are currently at such a level that I trust myself. We will all have one goal. Dudince will be one of the few events where the limit for the Olympics can be met. Achieving it is the only thing that makes sense at the moment.
“Everyone will have 3:50 ahead of them. We will help each other to meet the limit. Of course, Dudinská 50 has a very good tradition, so in the end it will also be a question of who wins,” he added.
Toth won one of Slovakia’s two gold medals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He will be looking to become just the second athlete to retain his 50km race walk title after Poland’s Robert Korzeniowski who won three titles between 1996 to 2004.