Toth returns to Dudince on the road to the European Championships

Matej Toth after winning the Rio 2016 Olympic Games 50km race walk gold medal
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Matej Toth will be looking to complete his collection of major 50km race walk titles at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin this summer

Not since his victory at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro has Slovakian Matej Toth put himself through the gruelling test of a 50km race walk: the endurance, the concentration, the pain and, ultimately, the delight of victory.

On Saturday that will all change when he returns to the distance in no better place, his home country as he competes in the Dudince 50.

It is the 37th staging of the famous event, a European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meeting, and one man will grab the attention of the home fans more than most when he starts on his way at 8.30am local time.

It is his journey where he will have more than just a win on his mind. Not only does Toth want to achieve the standard for this summer’s European Athletics in Berlin of 4:08 - which he should do without too much trouble - he also wants to reach an impressive mark of 3:45.

"That requires 4:30 pace and because of good recent training it should be possible to achieve something around it,” said Toth, 35, who has been preparing for the big event in South Africa.

Now to put that work to the test for a man who won the world title in Beijing in 2015 in 3:40:32 and then lifted the Olympic crown 12 months later in 3:40.58.

Almost 200 race walkers from 23 countries are expected to compete in one of the most high-profile competitions in the run-up to the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships. For many race walkers, qualifying times for the big event in the German capital will be the foremost goal.

Toth made the podium in Zurich 2014 when he won European silver in 3:36:21, breaking the national record, as France’s Yohann Diniz triumphed with his world record of 3:32:33.

But Dudince has proved a very happy hunting ground for the Slovakian. It was at this event in 2015 that he lowered his national record to 3:34:38 - a mark which puts him at third on the world all-time lists behind Diniz (3:32:33) and Russia’s Denis Nizhegorodov (3:34:14).

Spain’s Marc Our has set the early season standard with a European-leading time of 3:56:05 for the distance but Toth should be well inside that in a field which includes fellow Slovakians Miroslav Scibran, Dusan Majdan and Peter Tichy.

There will also be home interest in the women’s 50km race walk - which also begins at 7.30am - because in the field of 10 is Maria Czakova. A year ago, she was third in the 20km race walk in 1:36:28 and now makes her debut at the longer distance with Berlin in mind in a race. Poland’s Agnieszka Ellward, who has a personal best of 4:41:57, will be a big threat for victory.

Making it to Berlin will be a major landmark as this will be the first time the women’s 50km race walk will be included on the programme at the European Athletics Championships.

The men’s 20km race walk on Saturday will give Slovakia’s Milan Rizek the chance to go one better than last year when he finished second in 1:27:54 to Lithuania’s Genadij Kozlovskij (1:24:48).

But so much will be pointing towards the summer when Berlin co-hosts the first multi-sports European Championships with Glasgow. The 20km race walk standards are 1:25 for the men and 1:37 for the women and the 50km race walk standards at 4:08 for the men and 4:50 for the women.

The event will be streamed live here.