Two years ago in Podebrady there was only one Italian winner but there is a high chance there could be two at the European Race Walking Cup in Alytus, Lithuania on Sunday (19) which will be streamed live here.
It will be a surprise if any colour vest but blue spearheads the charge to gold in both the women’s 20km and 50km race walks with defending champion Antonella Palmisano ready to repeat her 2017 win at the shorter distance.
Meanwhile Eleonora Giorgi makes her debut at the 50km, boasting an impressive 2:45:21 for 35km achieved at the end of January. Her splits in that race on home soil suggest she should coast under 4:00 for the whole trip.
Giorgi has had her share of injuries but she secured a 1:31:07 win in Dudince in March, and laid waste to that mark with 1:27:46 last month in Podebrady - the best time in 2019 by a European race walker thus far.
Palmisano kept her powder dry until the end of April before asking followers to guess her time at the Italian Club Championships over 10,000m and win a prize. The first three who ventured 42:40.9 or close, now wear a brand new sports shirt and betting fans can put theirs on a double for Italy’s finest.
If there is to be a duel over 20km, the likely chasers will include European champion Maria Perez, who stuck a toe into the 2019 race scene with an easy win at the Spanish Championships in March in 1:30:55 along with Ukraine’s Inna Kashyna.
The latter was seventh in the European Championships but if current form is anything to go by, her 1:29:30 clocking in Rio Maior in April when she timed her late charge to near perfection for second place bodes well for a challenge on the medals in Alytus.
Neutral athlete Yana Smerdova, 21, should be in the mix as well.
And if there is a pretender to the Palmisano/Giorgi Italian throne - it’s Eleonora Dominici. She had a personal best of 1:38:22 three years ago and has suffered her fair share of disqualifications since then. In March at Cassino, Dominici notched a breakthrough 1:30:35 to put technical issues behind her and shore up what should be a very tough Italian team.
If there is a stronger collective unit: it’s Spain. Perez, Raquel Gonzalez, who has clocked 1:30:17 in 2019 and Laura Garcia-Caro are a good bet for top place on the podium.
But what would really raise the decibel levels in Alytus is a push by the home team and this is by no means beyond the realms of possibility as Lithuania were the surprise package with fourth and fifth in last year’s European Championships.
Although the first of those is now 34, Brigita Virbalyte-Dimsiene holds the national record with 1:27:59 from the European Championships Berlin and clocked 1:31:25 in February, the ninth fastest time by a European in 2019.
Right behind her in the German capital was Zivile Vaiciukeviciute who set an U23 national record with 1:28.07. Vaiciukeviciute is also one place behind Virbalyte-Dimsiene on the 2019 European list with a season’s best of 1:31:57.
Zivile’s twin sister Monika augmented a fine team bronze in Podebrady two years ago, and so deja vu beckons with Spain, Italy and Lithuania in that order.
Giorgi poised to make a statement on her 50km race walk debut
The European Race Walking Cup embraces the 50km race walk for women for the first time and an entry list of 30 demonstrates how quickly female athletes have taken to the event.
It was only two years ago a mere seven lined up for the IAAF World Championships in London - and only four of those finished.
In Alytus, Giorgi should prevail, but many an athlete in the long race has been reduced to the land of the walking dead in the closing stages.
— Eleonora Anna Giorgi (@eleagiorgi) May 9, 2019
Best placed to cash in should the Italian falter is the inaugural world and European champion Ines Henriques from Portugal who broke the fledgling world record in 2017 with 4:05:56 - a mark which now stands at 3:59:15.
Behind them should be Spain’s Julia Takacs with a lifetime best of 4:13:04 and the Belarusian pair of Nastassia Yatsevich and Nadzeya Darazhuk who have lifetime bests of 4:18:00 and 4:18:01 respectively.
From the longest event on the programme to the shortest, it will be another shock if Turkey’s world U20 10,000m race walk silver medallist Meryem Bekmez doesn’t romp home in the U20 10km in one of her final competitions before she graduates into the senior ranks.
Her season’s best of 44:25 is only one second behind her PB and more than a minute quicker than next fastest which also happens to be held by a Turkish race walker in Evin Demir.
The third fastest is their teammate Kader Dost. The trio is so far ahead of anyone else on paper, only judges' intervention can surely stop a Turkish team gold as well as all three individual medals.