All being well, Spain should top the podium in both 35km race walk events at the European Race Walking Team Championships in Podebrady on Sunday (21).
But the caveat against the prospective favourite in the women’s race Maria Perez is whether she can stay in the race.
The European Race Walking Team Championships will be streamed live with expert English-language commentary on the European Athletics YouTube channel from 7.25am CET.
Perez, the 2018 European 20km race walk champion, suffered back-to-back disqualifications at the World and European Athletics Championships last summer but that didn’t seem to leave too much scar tissue as she smashed her national record with 1:25:30 at the end of this March.
There’s no doubting the 27-year-old’s quality, but to win Perez - who holds the European record in the 35km race walk at 2:39:16 and leads the entry list by almost ten minutes with a season’s best 0f 2:41:38 - needs to focus on technique as much as the opposition.
In an interview with European Athletics ahead of the championships, Perez said: “To be honest, I’m not aiming to win or to smash any records, my two goals in Podebrady are just to romp home and show all the technical work we have done over the last months.”
Meanwhile, teammates Alvaro Martin and Miguel Angel Lopez are odds-on favourites in the men’s race.
The latter won the inaugural 35km at the 2022 European Athletics Championships in Munich and also walked a national record of 2:25:58 in the World Athletics Championships.
Since then, Martin - who won the 20km race walk title in Munich - breezed to a 2:28:16 clocking on home soil at the end of February in the Spanish Championships and followed that with a 1:21:44 clocking in the 20km race walk a month later.
While much more au fait with the shorter distance, Martin has dipped his toe into the 35km distance internationally as well, winning silver at last year’s World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat, Oman.
But this time, the double European Championship gold medallist at the 20km race walk looks more than enough to give Lopez a test to the top of the podium.
Does a Spanish clean sweep beckon in the men’s race?
Behind both, Marc Tur was second to Martin at Cieza in February, and could ensure a Spanish 1-2-3 - and therefore the team title - at the medal ceremony.
Tur has the notable distinction of being the last winner of the 50km race walk at the European Race Walking Championships, an event which was discontinued in 2021.
Should any of the first three stumble, Germany’s Christopher Linke is ready to pounce - and he loves the Spa Park. He won the 20km race walk at the 2017 European Cup in Podebrady to go with three more wins at the annual springtime meeting.
Linke’s lifetime best is a mere 2:29:30, but that was good enough for silver behind Lopez at the European Athletics Championships in Munich last year.
Spain and Germany will make it a tough call for the team prize.
Carl Dohmann and Nathaniel Seiler have both walked sub-2:34:00 this year but Spain can also look to José Manuel Perez - who has a best of 2:35:22 - if they need a fourth walker to step up. However, the German team has since been weakened by the withdrawal of Jonathan Hilbert due to illness.
As an outsider, Aurélien Quinion is a contender.
The Frenchman walked a lifetime best of 1:19:57 for the 20km at Aix-les-Bains in March and at 35km, he holds the national record at 2:28:46 from the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon where he was fourth European behind Massimo Stano, Perseus Karlstrom - both of whom are contesting the 20km race walk in Podebrady - and Lopez.
Behind Perez in the women’s 35km, European silver medallist Raquel Gonzalez and Cristina Montesinos - who have lifetime bests of 2:42:27 and 2:50:11 respectively - should augment the Spanish team challenge.
Italians Sara Vitiello and Lidia Barcella, along with former world and European 50km race walk champion Ines Henriques and Kyriaki Filtisakou from Greece, are also among the entrants who have broken the three hour-barrier in 2023.
New champions to emerge in the U20 10km races
The two U20 10km race walk events should provide exciting finishes. There’s not a lot between the U20 men’s personal bests although Italy’s Diego Giampaolo tops the list with 41:47. This gives him a 38 second advantage over Hayrettin Tur Yıldız (42:25) from Türkiye.
After that, there’s barely a minute between the next seven entrants with a famous name third on season’s bests.
Germany’s Freddy Weigel, who has a recently set lifetime best of 42:44, has the double-edged sword of his dad’s illustrious career hanging over his head. Ronald Weigel won Olympic silver and World Athletics Championship gold along with a batch of other major medals for East Germany in the 1980s.
Giuseppe Disabato is the only one of the leading nine able who will be able to get a second go in the European Race Walking Team Championships as a junior.
The 16-year-old is three years younger than the favourites but still has a very respectable 42:57 to his name from a 10km on home soil in Frosinone in Italy, the same race where Giampaolo set the European U20 lead.
Should they falter, Pablo Rodriguez from Spain (43:06), Filip Krestianko from Slovakia (43:38), Germany’s Arvid Kockel (43:44), and two more Turks - Harun Bilir (43:48) and Ozan Bayram (44:03) - will no doubt seize their chance.
The U20 women could even end up in a bunch sprint. Barely a minute separates the first six and only Giada Traina from Italy set her lifetime best outside 2023.
Spain’s Aldara Meilan heads the list with 46:41, followed by Giulia Gabriele from Italy (47:12), France’s Ana Delahaie (47:19), Traina (47:20), and then Germany’s Lena Sonntag (47:28) and Emine Ceylan from Türkiye (47:43).
Paul Warburton for European Athletics