Martin and Perez sweep the 20km race walk titles for Spain

Alvaro Martin
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Alvaro Martin led a one-two for Spain in the 20km race walk at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships

Spain celebrated a golden double as Alvaro Martin and Maria Perez – the latter in a championship record – were crowned the European 20km race walk champions at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships.

The women were due to start at 9.05am but with the fire services called to investigate a reported gas leak, their event was delayed and started with the men at 10.55am.

But that took nothing away from the quality of two tremendous races, which ended with the athletes doing all they could to hold their footing after a rain shower on this looped course along the European Mile in the city.

After taking charge with 2km to go in the men’s race, Martin was not going to be beaten. His stride quickened, his concentration remained and with every step he edged closer to the finish and, significantly, further away from his closest rivals.

In the end it had been a group of three who were left to decide the medals, with Martin ahead of teammate Diego Garcia Carrera and Vasiliy Mizinov, an Authorised Neutral Athlete.

But once Martin hit the front, it proved decisive as he maintained Spain's superb record in this event, succeeding Miguel Angel Lopez as champion as the country won this title for the fourth time in the last five championships.

Martin, 24, was first in 1:20:42, leading a Spanish one-two from Garcia Carrera in 1:20:48. Mizinov came away with bronze in 1:20:50 with Italy's Massimo Stano breaking his personal best in fourth in 1:20.51.

As he made the final turn with the line in sight, Martin waved to the crowd, took off his sunglasses, brushed back his hair and smiled as wide as he could as he broke the tape for the greatest moment of his career.

Eighth at the IAAF World Championships in London last year, Martin is no stranger to the European podium. He won bronze in the 10,000m walk at the European U20 Championships in Rieti 2013 and silver in the 20km walk at the European U23 Championships in Tallinn 2015.

Germany's Nils Brembach also made a big impression at home, leading for most of the early stages before finishing fifth in season's best time of 1:21:25, just two seconds and one position ahead of Lopez, the defending champion. Brembach’s more renowned teammate Christopher Linke also led in the early stages but dropped back to 13th in 1:22:33.

But it was very much Spain’s day as Martin won his country’s first gold medal of the European Championships. “During the last 100 metres, I was thinking about all the challenges I had to overcome in the last few months,” he said.

“Right now, I want to enjoy because I'm feeling like a student who needs to prepare for an assessment and today, it was my final exam.”

Perez breaks championship record to ensure a Spanish double

Spain's Maria Perez proved the epitome of concentration as she held her nerve behind the Czech Republic's Anezka Drahotova by stamping his authority on this race to win the European title in 1:26:36 to break Olimpiada Ivanova's 16-year record from Munich by six seconds.

“I really didn't care about the finishing time, all I wanted was gold,” she said. “But I'm happy I improved my mark by almost two minutes.”

It was a glorious success in a race where not only Perez made history as she won from Drahotova in second in 1:27:03 and Italy's Antonella Palmisano, the world bronze medallist, in third in 1:27:30.

In fourth, Lithuania's Brigita Virbalyte-Dimsiene broke the national record in 1:27:59 while her teammate Zivile Vaiciukeviciute broke the national U23 mark with 1:28:07. Spain's Laura Garcia-Caro produced a personal best of 1:28:15 in sixth.

But the star was Perez from a race where both Lithuanians made an impact at the front early on before Drahotova decide the take on the challenge after the halfway point.

When she put in laps of 4:17 and 4:18 over the 11th and 12th time around the one-kilometre loop, the European bronze medallist from 2014 must have been eyeing up the top of the podium.

She was looking in control, never faltering and it seemed she might extend her lead even more. But each time she tried to, Palmisano and Perez went that bit quicker too.

From being in third at the 15km stage, Perez had passed both Drahotova and Palmisano by the 16th marker before just stretching away to smash her personal best of 1:28:50 which had been set when she was seventh at the World Race Walking Team Championships in Taicang in May.

She was delighted as the line approached, grabbing a Spanish flag and walking as fast as ever, each step bringing her closer to a famous win just moments after Martin's glory - a fact she was aware of.

“There were a number of things going through my head in the last 100 metres, and I really wanted to enjoy the moment. I was also aware Alvaro and Diego had achieved medals in the men's race, so that motivated me even more to go for it,” she said.