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Report05 Mar 2022

Karlstrom earns first global honours with 35km victory in Muscat


Perseus Karlstrom wins the 35km in Muscat (© Getty Images)

Perseus Karlstrom took the liberty of donning his trademark mock Viking helmet a kilometre before the finish of the 35km at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22.

By then, the world bronze medallist from Sweden knew he had gold in the bag. It was perfect symmetry when he hoisted mother Siv Gustavsson – before today, the last Swedish athlete to win a title at these championships – in his arms seconds after his joyous win. She was also a winner in the women’s event as far back as 1981, having also won in 1977.

Karlstrom has worn the fun headgear when victorious in the past, notably at the 2019 and 2021 editions of the European Race Walking Team Championships – but never this early.

Going uphill with just over three kilometres to go, Karlstrom moved through the gears as Alvaro Martin’s face tightened with the effort. The Spaniard and the Swede were last men standing in a field that got slowly whittled down to a sharp end of talent. Martin was second fastest in the field going into the race, and his fluid style contrasted with a tighter, punchier Karlstrom.

But the victor with a 20km PB of 1:18:07, along with decent showings at 50km through the years, proved a perfect blend for the inaugural event. He finished in 2:36:14 – not that much slower than his PB of 2:31:54 set last December in Ireland in far easier conditions.

Martin crossed the line in 2:36:54 having settled for silver over the last kilometre, and was followed by fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Lopez (2:37:27) – himself a multiple championships medallist, that includes the 2014 European and 2015 world titles over 20km.

Masatora Kawano from Japan moved up two places from his 50km Olympic walk last August to claim fourth, and Germany’s Karl Junghannis came through for a fine fifth with Evan Dunfee, a few seconds behind, claiming sixth for Canada.

Earlier, the men were strung out along the road with world leader Lopez and Martin showing early. A 4:57 first kilometre was the equivalent of a morning stroll for the newspaper, even if it was already 24C with the sun yet to fully rise.

Miroslav Uradnik was first to blink, and darted back and forth into the lead with a group of 13 chasing the Slovak just a few metres in arrears. They had sped up by 10km (46:03) with Germany, Spain, China well represented at the head.

But the hosts were already suffering with two of their five-man team disqualified as early as 3km.  Oman has been generous hosts throughout the week, but will benefit from coaching to make progress on their fledgling effort.

Iced caps and scarves were being changed quicker than a fashion catwalk as race walkers constantly sought to deflect the rising heat. By 18km, the lead group had been joined ominously by Dunfee, world and Olympic bronze medallist at 50km, ominous that is for the rest of the field planning a medal chase. However, the 20km split of 1:31:18 suggested it was still relatively comfortable.

Finland’s Aleksi Ojala was next to show, and nudged a seven-second lead by 23km over a group that had shed a couple as heat and pace moved up. Then, for the first time, Karlstom took it on with Martin and Lu Ning in his slipstream.

The Chinese quickly slipped back, leaving Sweden and Spain at the front, notching just over 2:14:00 at 30km with the race revving up for real.

It was clear that, barring a major surprise, the first two medals were spoken for in the inaugural event, but Karlstom’s win was a surprise to the man himself.

As he admitted afterwards, he’s been struggling with injury and illness for the past two months.

“I certainly did not expect that,” said the 31-year-old after crossing the line first in 2:36:14. “I had a hamstring injury, and then I caught Covid and I was bad for three weeks. But I had a good couple of training sessions more recently, and one really good session 10 days ago.”

Gold here despite compromised training suggests Karlstrom has a serious chance of more medal success at either the World Championships in July in Oregon or the European Championships a month later – or both.

Martin finished second in 2:36:54, then turned around to see teammate Lopez had overtaken Kawano in the closing stages to take third place in 2:37:27.

Martin and Lopez's efforts underlined the strength in depth of the Spanish team as they took team gold, with China a distant second and Germany third. Italy were fourth.

Paul Warburton for World Athletics

1 Perseus Karlstrom 🇸🇪 SWE 2:36:14 CR
2 Alvaro Martin 🇪🇸 ESP 2:36:54
3 Miguel Angel Lopez 🇪🇸 ESP 2:37:27
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