Yohann Diniz on his way to winning the 50km race walk (© Getty Images)
There were three predictable wins at the 13th European Race Walking Cup and a first major triumph for the hosts as the IAAF Race Walking Challenge reached the Lithuanian city of Alytus.
Yohann Diniz bounced back to 50km form with a fine European Race Walking Cup record that also posted a warning he is the man to beat at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
The 41-year-old ticked off regular laps close to 4:25 for 3:37:43 as both women’s and men’s 50km race walkers toed the line for an 8am start.
From first to last, Diniz’s only company was either lapped race walkers or spectators urging him ever faster. Neither heat nor recent injury concerns proved a hindrance as he claimed a third title in the competition following his 20km victory in 2007 and his 50km triumph in 2013.
It was also the third-fastest time of his career following his 3:32:33 world record set at the 2014 European Championships and his 3:33:12 championship record from the 2017 World Championships.
A very distant second was Dzmitry Dziubin from Belarus who made a breakthrough leap to the podium after joining Diniz’s chasers at 22km. Dziubin gradually forged a gap over the rest to cover the last 20km on his own and notch 3:45:51 – a PB by more than two minutes.
The bronze was a final surprise. At 43, Portugal’s João Vieira, 22nd in the world rankings, prevailed to win a first 50km medal in a major competition – six years after he finished fourth over 20km at the 2013 World Championships.
In fact, it was his duel with Poland’s Artur Brzozowski and Ireland’s Brendan Boyce that provided the race’s true excitement.
For much of the second half, the three of them were never more than a few seconds apart.
Boyce had to give way just after 40km, but still set a PB of 3:48:13 for fifth, while there was a genuine sprint finish between Poland’s Brzozowski and Vieira, with the Portuguese edging it by four seconds.
Giorgi breaks European record
Eleonora Giorgi discovered just how tough 50km is when she race walked solo on her debut in the 25C morning heat.
The bonus for her brave 4:04:50 was to break the European record set by world champion Ines Henriques, a mark that was originally the world record in 2017.
Giorgi was away from the start and forging a big lead with every stride. She hit 10km in 48:18, with Henriques (50:06) marginally ahead of Spain’s Julia Takåcs and Khrystyna Yudkina from Ukraine.
As it turned out, the last 15km were understandably hard for the leader.
At 31km, Giorgi had more than four minutes over Takåcs who had just moved into undisputed second.
The Spaniard with 50km experience used it to good effect as she increased her tempo to finish less than a minute behind Giorgi, who nonetheless mounted a final rally to come home in style in a national record of 4:05:46, moving to second on the European all-time list.
Henriques was a gutsy third in 4:13:57, and behind her were personal bests for Ukraine's Valentyna Myronchuk (4:15:50) and Nastassia Yatsevich from Belarus (4:16:39).
Another win for Karlstrom
In the men’s 20km, Perseus Karlstrom claimed the biggest win of his career.
Wearing a fancy dress yellow and blue viking’s helmet complete with pigtails for the last 200m, the 29-year-old Swede moved from third at the 2017 European Cup to top spot.
Karlstrom also added to his challenge points haul which includes wins in Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico just a month ago, and the Adelaide 20km in February.
Three wins in a row bodes well for Karlstrom and in this race he played the waiting game to perfection.
From the gun, Britain’s Tom Bosworth and defending champion Christoper Linke were first to show and shot through 3km in 12:03 – but ominously a chasing group heaving with talent bided their time.
Halfway was clocked at 40:11 for Bosworth, but the group with designs on a win had swallowed up Linke and cut the deficit to 13 seconds.
By 15km, the Briton was reeled in by Karlstrom and Spain’s Diego Garcia – and no wonder. The pair notched 3:48 for the fastest kilometre so far.
When the Swede took off on lap 17 he recorded another zippy 3:55; last year’s European silver medallist was left to fight for second.
Karlstrom, who went on to win in 1:19:54, showed he meant business on the penultimate lap, as did one of two neutral athletes, Vasiliy Mizinov.
Cleverly biding his time at the back of the chasing group, he lit the afterburners to pass Garcia and claim silver in 1:20:18 to improve an already fine year.
Bosworth rallied to hold on to fourth, and his effort was rewarded. Great Britain claimed team silver, their first ever European Cup medal, behind Spain and in front of Ukraine.
Vaiciukeviciute victorious for hosts
Lithuanian women have a decent record in European Cup team competition, but without an individual win until now.
Živile Vaiciukeviciute changed all that in the women’s 20km, which was also the race of the day.
Teammate Brigita Virbalytė-Dimšienė looked slightly shocked as her understudy at the European Championships last year lapped her in the closing stages.
But even then the fight for gold and challenge points was far from over.
Vaiciukeviciute inched ahead of Spain’s Raquel Gonzales, but when that battle was won, Laura García-Caro picked up the pace to push the joyful Lithuanian all the way to the line.
At halfway through the final lap, it looked as if Garcia-Caro was making ground, but as both turned the final corner, the eventual winner dug deep to forge home.
Defending champion Antonella Palmisano was an early pacemaker. However, both she and European champion Maria Perez were far from their best, and the former failed to finish.
Instead, the 23-year-old Vaiciukeviciute dug in when it mattered, and cheered on over loudspeaker, race commentary and hundreds around the course, held her nerve to win in 1:29:48. Caro-Garcia recorded 1:29:55 and compatriot Gonzalez was timed at 1:30:17.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF