Antonella Palmisano, Christopher Linke and Ivan Banzeruk took the three senior individual gold medals at the 12th edition of the European Race Walking Cup held in the Czech spa town and race walking mecca of Poděbrady on Sunday (21).
Senior women’s 20km
The seemingly foregone conclusion that Antonella Palmisano would dominate in Poděbrady proved sound. Dominate she did.
In the lead almost from the gun, the Italian piled it on and at halfway she was already 27 seconds ahead of a chasing group of four.
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games fourth-place finisher but this was her first senior title after first coming to prominence at the 2010 IAAF World Cup when she came out of the blue to lift the U20 title in Mexico.
Easy to spot thanks to wearing long blue compression socks, the 25-year-old was lapping backmarkers before the fourth 1km lap, and after missing the 27-year-old 10km world record by a single second last month, she must be considered a medal contender at the IAAF World Championships in London this coming August.
Her personal best of 1:27:51 was also in danger coming up to the last 50 metres but she darted over to the side of the course, clutched at a supporter’s Italian flag with ‘Forza Antonella’ on it, dropped it, picked it up and strolled to the line to finishing in 1:27:57, missing her best by six seconds.
Palmisano looked surprised when told she had missed out on a personal best time but quickly recovered to say it was “unimportant.”
"What mattered,” she added, “was having the flag in my hand to win my first major senior race.”
A long way behind, with Palmisano hitting the halfway mark in 44:23, Portugal looked strong with both Ana Cabecinha and Ines Henriques in contention for medals as the quartet of chasers passed 10km in 44:50.
However, the latter’s dream was dashed just shy of the 15km mark when she incurred the judges’ displeasure and was shown the dreaded red disc.
This left Cabecinha and race surprise Laura Garcia-Caro from Spain in the frame for silver and bronze.
The Portuguese walker dug on vast reserves and experience to edge ahead and take second in 1:29:44 with Garcia-Caro third in 1:29:57 but the Spaniard stood on the top of the podium a little later as she lead home Spain to team gold with all three of their scorers inside the top 10.
Senior men’s 20km
Christopher Linke just loves Poděbrady.
Three first places and a second on this course in the last two years suggests the German finds this circuit a home from home.
The only problem the 1.90m-tall walker encountered en route to gold was ducking under a sponsor’s sign every lap, which was otherwise too high for everyone else to reach.
No one got close to the 28-year-old once he broke away eight kilometres into the race and he prised open the gap to form a chasm before winning in 1:19:28.
“I have one of the best coaches in the world in Ronald Weigel (former world champion). It is a great motivation and there is a saying which says that when you train with the best you learn to win,” reflected Linke.
"I love it here in Poděbrady even though it has been a hard year. After 10k, I went at my own pace and I really enjoyed it. I truly feel this is my time to shine,” he added.
Behind him, the race for the other two places on the podium became a drawn out affair between France’s Kevin Campion, back to form, reigning world and European champion Miguel Angel Lopez and Perseus Karlstrom from Sweden.
After a disappointing and injury-marred 2016, Lopez injected the speed needed to get away from his pursuers at 17 kilometres to claim the silver in 1:20:21.
The chief judge’s disqualification disc decided bronze when Campion was removed with a third warning, handing the bronze to the Swede in 1:20:40.
Great Britain’s high-rated Tom Bosworth struggled to ignore a hip injury, but fourth in 1:21:21 was a decent return as he builds for the world championships on home soil in a few months’ time.
Like in the women’s 20km, Spain took the team title with Linke’s win helping Germany get the silver medals.
Senior men’s 50km
The long race went to form with Ivan Banzeruk playing the waiting game and then striking at 38 kilometres into the race to establish what was to become an unassailable lead.
The Ukrainian came into the race with a 3:44:49 best and, in the end, his pedigree paid off as he won in 3:48:15.
By holding back, the 27-year-old finished strongest while team-mate Ihor Hlavan upped the pace in the closing stages to take a deserved silver medal 23 seconds in arrears of his compatriot.
Bronze went to an Italian, but not the one who led the race for 23 kilometres.
Michele Antonelli was close to four minutes behind early leader Teodorico Caporaso – who went through 20km in 1:33:00 and at one point has nearly a two-minute advantage over the rest of the field – but came through, despite two cards against him before the halfway point, to take third place in a personal best of 3:49:07.
Banzeruk and Hlavan were followed home by their compatriot Maryan Zakolnytskyy in sixth place to give Ukraine the team title with Italy in second place and Spain third.
U20 men’s 10km
Leo Kopp proved that success in April’s annual race walking extravaganza in Poděbrady was no flash in the pan.
The German, 19 on Tuesday, awarded himself an early birthday gift with a second personal best around the park course and in much the same way as he posted his first at the European Athletics Permit Meeting.
Biding his time after a group of four had gone through 5km in 20:43, Kopp streaked ahead in the last two kilometres to come home in 41:08, finishing 11 seconds ahead of Mikita Kiliada from Belarus.
Poland’s Lukasz Niedzialek was third in 41:28, all three men on the podium and seven of the top eight achieving personal bests.
Belarus just edged out France for the team gold medals, with Ukraine taking third.
U20 women’s 10km
Russia’s Yana Smerdova – racing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete –looked as if she was about to breakaway on the eighth lap out of 10 but, when she heard the bell, she changed gear so fast it was clear the 19-year-old had been coasting until that point.
A 10-metre lead became 50 metres in less than two minutes as the black-vested athlete headed for the finish line before winning in 46:39.
Behind her, Germany’s Teresa Zurek was hoping to repeat her April win in Poděbrady while Turkey’s Meryem Bekmez was just hoping to get to the finish this time.
Bekmez, still only 16 and the European U18 champion last year, had recorded a 5km personal best in the previous race but was then disqualified after crossing the line.
The Turk had an eye on the board in this race too after picking up one card but the 16 was able to outsprint Zurek over the last 100 metres to claim a deserved silver in 46:48 with the German three seconds further back.
In the final race of the day, Spain took its third team title in Poděbrady with Greece second and Germany third.