One final hurrah awaits Bekmez in her U20 farewell in Boras

Meryem Bekmez
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Turkey's Meryem Bekmez won the U20 10km race walk by a clear margin at the European Race Walking Cup in Alytus, Lithuania

In the end, there is no secret to a country’s athletics success. If the money is in the pot, and the right coaches are in place and the identified talent is nurtured, then eventually everything rises like cream to the top

Turkey is one of the newer countries to make its mark on the race walking scene, thanks in no small part to hefty financial support from the country's athletics federation.

Witness the women’s U20 team at the European Race Walking Cup in Alytus, Lithuania on Sunday (19), and the fruits of investment were plain for all to see.

The three young Turks took all of 10 seconds to separate themselves from the field of 31, and Meryem Bekmez made sure it was over and out on everyone else's dream of gold around a minute after that.

Her chasing teammates could see her for maybe one lap of the one kilometre loop on the tree-lined course at Alytus, and then the diminutive but powerful athlete, was slaloming her way to victory through 50km walkers whose races took place at the same time.

Turkish officials barely raised an eyebrow. Anything but a team win would have been a disaster.

Even Demir came home a distant but expected second for silver but the one disappointment belonged to Kader Dost whose third place was snatched from her in the last two kilometres.

No doubt Dost’s relative failure is already being analysed back home by the federation’s race walking coordinator, Mustafa Akyavaş who is the happy beneficiary of a new stance on the sport by his federation.

He said: “Although there have been race walkers for many years in Turkey, since we have new regulations and planning made by our federation, the sport continues to grow rapidly.

“As seen in the European Cup in Alytus, our young athletes, who have been supported by our federation for the last four years, have shown us that we are on the right direction by taking medals and cups in the U20 women and men categories.”

Indeed, the U20 men won team bronze, thanks in no small part to Selman Ilhan’s fourth-place to go with a personal best for Abdulselam Imuk in the senior men’s 20km race walk.

But Bekmez is the immediate future when it comes to major individual medals. Born on 31 July 2000, the former European U18 champion walked well within herself at Alytus.

With her coach Akyavaş at the helm of their training plan, they are now planning for a second gold medal of the year in the 10,000m race walk at the Boras 2019 European Athletics U20 Championships from 18-21 July.

She won bronze last time in 2017 which was a decent effort for a 16-year-old who had competed at the IAAF World U18 Championships in Nairobi the previous week. But two years later and there is no other European close to her on current form as evidenced in Alytus.

This will be her last hurrah at U20 level before stepping up to seniors permanently although she has already dipped her toe into senior competition, finishing eleventh in the 20km race walk at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships in a national record of 1:31:00.

What makes her so good? Her style is very much forward momentum, low arm carriage and quick stride, and therefore technically excellent. Her coach Akyavaş reckons his charge also has her head in the right place.

“In addition to her physical structure suitable for walking, Meryem is a hardworking, stable and positive person and these traits make her a good athlete,” he explained.

“This is her last year in the U20 category and she will start competing in the senior category next year. In the short term, she is preparing to walk only 20km. Our goal is to make a good 20km performance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics”.

Before Boras, there will be another stab at the 20km race walk when Bekmez - a member of the elite Kayapınar Belediye Sport Club in the south of Turkey - contests a leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge event in La Coruna, Spain on 8 June.

As kind as U20 competition has been to Turkey, the country’s walks co-ordinator yearns for greater success at senior level.

“One of our main goals as a country is to show these achievements in the senior categories,” Akyavaş said.

“Currently, senior woman Ayse Tekdal and senior man Salih Korkmaz are preparing for the Tokyo Olympics who are in a good position in the IAAF rankings.

“But in the near future, we are confident that our athletes, like Meryem, will also achieve significant achievements in the senior categories.”