Marc Tur walked the race of his life to win the men’s 50km race walk at the European Race Walking Team Championships in Podebrady, Czech Republic on Sunday (16) in 3:47:40.
Not only that, but the Spaniard recorded an Olympic qualifying time more than two minutes inside the 3:50:00 limit.
The tall athlete with a languid style, started to smile with two kilometres to go, and by the final 500 metres was beaming. His previous 3:54:51 best from 2019 was history, and a slow start paid dividends in a race he led only at the 43 kilometre-checkpoint.
Tur passed the long-time leader Karl Junghannss, who went for broke in a final bid for the Olympic German team. At one stage, he was three minutes up on the chasers, but that long, lone effort was doomed the instant Tur took over at the front.
He breezed past the flagging German, who dipped his head slightly in acknowledgment of the end of a brave solo effort. Junghannss eventually faded to eighth in 3:52:07 although he did have the consolation of taking silver in the team race.
Chasing Tur was Aleksi Ojala who was sporting a sun visor and dark glasses. The Finnish walker has suffered his fair share of non-finishes in major races, but this time he held his nerve to also record an Olympic qualifier in 3:48:25.
Italy’s Andrea Agrusti just dipped under the mark needed for Tokyo in third in 3:49:52. As he waved to supporters in the final few metres, it looked as if he might miss out, but came home with eight seconds to spare. Agrusti also led Italy to the team title ahead of Germany and Ukraine.
From a long way back, Latvia’s Ruslans Smolonskis charged through for fourth in 3:50:31, with only Ojala missing out on a personal best among the first four.
Italian veteran Marco De Luca was fifth in 3:50:48 while the oldest man in the event Jesus Angel Garcia, 51, was 20th in 4:01:14 in what will surely be his last appearance at the European Race Walking Team Championships.
Drisbioti surprises Giorgi for 35km title
Antigoni Drisbioti claimed the best result of a 20-year career when she paced herself perfectly to win the inaugural women’s 35km race walk.
The 37-year-old Greek has been only moderately successful at 20km race walk but the longer distance is where she has found her forte. She was blowing kisses over the final 500m of an unassailable lead.
Italy's arguable pre-race favourite Eleonora Giorgi put down the hammer from the off to notch 9:12 after 2km.. At this point, she was actually third on the road in the men’s 50km and leading her own race with teammate Marco de Luca alongside for company.
However, she soon picked up two disqualification cards to put her on the back foot, followed by tears and clear discomfort around the 14-kilometre mark.
There was a rueful look from Giorgi as she was passed by Drisbioti, and then ,somehow with all seemingly falling apart around her, found a second wind.
She moved back into second from fourth after passing Spain’s Maria Juarez and Nadzeya Darazhuk from Belarus over the last 10km although Giorgi still looked inconsolable as she crossed the line.
In contrast, teammate Lidia Barcelli passed a tiring Juarez with a lap to go and was delighted with bronze and a near seven-minute PB. Except for Giorgi, the top 10 finishers in the women’s 35km race walk all recorded lifetime bests. Italy won team gold ahead of Greece and Belarus respectively.
A notable non-finisher was Portugal’s Ines Henriques, one of the early standard bearers for the 50km race walk and a former world record holder for the distance. Henriques withdrew from the race at around 20 kilometres.
There was drama in the men's U20 10km when the apparent winner went from first to fourth some time after the finish.
Dimitri Durand lit the afterburners with a lap to go and came home eleven seconds clear of Spain's Jose Luis Hidalgo but the Frenchman’s sprint had cost him dearly. He picked up a 60-second penalty so the three behind him all moved up a place as Durand was relegated from the podium.
Hidalgo was officially followed home by teammate Paul McGrath, with the bronze going to Serhat Gungor from Turkey. It was a considerable personal best for Hidalgo, who belatedly celebrated his 19th birthday last Wednesday by slicing 41 seconds off his previous mark.
Even with the penalty, Durand equalled his 42:26 lifetime best in fourth. His country also claimed team silver behind Spain but ahead of Turkey.
A home win was duly delivered by red-hot favourite Eliška Martinkova in the U20 women’s race.
In truth, the competition was over in little more than a minute as the Czech walker put 50 metres between herself and the entire field. It was then a solitary display of superiority all the way to the finish for the 18-year-old with a line of blue kinesthetic tape on her arm.
The next tape that mattered was the winning variety, and she had started interviews before the top 10 trailed in behind her. Her finishing time 45:46 was another personal best in a procession of outstanding perfromances that has seen her hack 10 minutes from her time in just two years.
Behind her, Portugal’s Adriana Viveiros recorded a personal best of 47:01, just ahead of Mael Bire-Heslouis for a French U20 record.
The team competition couldn’t have been tighter with Portugal just edging past France for gold, and the Czech Republic taking third.
Full results here.