Slovakia have an outstanding record at the European Race Walking Cup and with reigning Olympic and world 50km race walk champion Matej Toth at the helm of their team, they will looking for more success across the border in the Czech town of Poděbrady in a week’s time on Sunday 21 May.
Toth, 34, is at the forefront of an 11-strong squad which Slovakia have announced for a competition where he will drop down from the distance which took him to gold in Rio last summer and Beijing the year before, to contest again the 20km distance, his preferred event at the European Race Walking Cup.
Endurance might be one of his greatest assets but as he shown at the last three editions of this competition that he possesses enough speed on the right occasion and he has a full set of medals from this event.
Toth was crowned 20km champion in Olhao in 2011, he won silver two years ago in Murcia and in 2013, on home territory in Dudince, it was bronze.
His appearance in Poděbrady will signal a 16-year relationship with the European Race Walking Cup, having first finished 39th in the U20 10km race in Dudince back in 2001.
He has competed every time since going from 24th in the 20km in in 2003 to making his first podium at the event six years ago when he won in 1:23:53.
His appearance in Poděbrady will be his first international competition since he won the Olympic gold in Rio, and no doubt he will be looking for a big performance ahead of the defence of his world crown in London.
“Nowhere else can I race walk as well as in Poděbrady. In addition, I have made four personal records here. It was in Poděbrady that I had my first victory as a senior [in 2003], plus an excellent performance; at the age of just 20 I raced 1:23:17. My dad has joined me every year, it's his annual tradition. In Poděbrady I got to love race walking as a 14-year-old,” commented Tóth last year, showing his affection for the spa town and its race walking heritage.
Toth has warmed up for the European Race Walking Cup by winning two domestic races in the last month – in Borsky Mikulas and Kosice – curiously in exactly the same time of 1:24:38.
He is joined in the Slovakian 20km team by Milan Rizek, Dusan Majdan and Miroslav Uradnik. Christopher Linke leads the European lists with 1:18:59 and will start as the favourite at this distance but now that Tóth has been confirmed, the German’s challenge has got that slightly bit tougher.
When Slovakia won women’s team bronze in Metz in 2009, Maria Czakova was in the winning squad.
In 31st place, she was the third athlete home from her nation home and she – and Slovakia – will be eyeing a medal again in the 20km where she is joined by Monika Hornakova and Lucia Cubanova.
As Toth won the men’s race in Borsky Mikulas, Czakova won the women’s in 1:40:38 but it is her 1:33:26 from the high-quality Lugano race in March which should stand her in even greater stead in Poděbrady.
Lubomir Kubis and Daniel Kovac make up the Slovak junior men’s 10km team and Ema Hacundova and Klaudia Zarska will chase glory in the women’s event.