After two years, spa town of Poděbrady is again the host of a big athletics festival. At the weekend European Race Walking Team Championships, we can look forward to a number of medallists from the Olympic Games, World and continental championships. The Czech representatives will also want to perform their best in front of the home audience.
Race walking and Poděbrady, a connection for decades
Spa town of Poděbrady is connected with race walking for more than a century. The first 50-kilometre race from Prague to Poděbrady took place already in 1894. The meeting started to be held every year from the 1929 season, when the introduction of the 50km event at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics was the inspiration.
In 1947, the international competition was held here for the first time, and since then the story of the popular race began to be written. A number of world-class and domestic walkers have visited Poděbrady over the years. An exceptional personality in this respect was Olympic silver medallist Josef Doležal, Czechoslovak representative reigned in this race seven times in a row, between 1949 and 1955.
Since the 1990s, races have been held on the spa colonnade and the adjacent park in Poděbrady. The one-kilometre circuit is famous for its speed, which is why the world's top walkers regularly and happily return here. Thanks to this, Poděbrady was assigned to host the World Cup, which took place here in 1997. In the 2017 season, the European Cup was held here. In both cases, the events also served as a celebration of the anniversaries of Czech athletics – the 100th and 120th ones, respectively.
The European Walking Cup has recently been transformed into the European Team Championships. Poděbrady hosted its very first edition on May 16, 2021 in the difficult conditions of a number of pandemic restrictions, but at a high sporting level.
European Championships, continuation of successful cooperation
Libor Varhaník, president of the Czech Athletic Federation and LOC, also appreciates the uniqueness of this walking race and also the long-term successful cooperation with the town of Poděbrady. "Poděbrady has built a solid position on the athletics map. The town has its charm and the competitors like to come back here thanks to the welcoming attitude they feel here," he said.
His words are complemented by the newly elected mayor of Poděbrady Roman Schulz. "We appreciate that we have achieved such a distinguished position. Cooperation with the Czech Athletic Federation has been working at an excellent level for a long time, which should be appreciated and we look forward to further joint events."
On Sunday, May 21, the elite from the entire continent will gather in Poděbrady again. 220 male and female competitors from 22 countries will take part in this year's European Race Walking Team Championships. "We definitely have something to build on," emphasizes Varhaník. "Every year we try to provide the competitors with a comfortable race in an attractive environment. We managed to organize the European Cup in 2017 as well as the subsequent European Walking Team Championship in the difficult covid season of 2021. The expectations are so high," he perceives.
"We want to maintain this quality in terms of sport and organization. The track on the spa colonnade is famous for its speed. The weather should be pleasant on Sunday, so I believe that this year's European Race Walking Team Championship will be an ideal opportunity for competitors to meet the entry standards for the August World Championships in Budapest and the Olympic Games in Paris next year," believes Varhaník.
Medallists from top events at the start
The starting lists are really full. In the women's 20-kilometre race, we can look forward to, for example, the Italian Antonella Palmisano (Olympic champion and course record holder in Poděbrady), the Greek Antigoni Ntrismpioti (two-time European champion from Munich), or, the Polish Katarzyna Zdzieblo (two-time silver medallist from the World Championships in Eugene).
Another Olympic champion from the Tokyo Games, the Italian Massimo Stano, who is also the world champion from Eugene, will be highlight name of the men's 20-kilometre. The three-time bronze medallist from the world championships and winner of the last two editions of the European Race Walking Team Championships, Swede Perseus Karlström, will also be a big favourite.
In both 35-kilometre races, Spain sent very strong national teams. The women's start list is led by European record holder María Pérez. The men's line-up will be based on the European champion at this distance from Munich and former world champion Miguel Ángel López, and the winner of the last two European team championships at the 20-kilometre course, Álvaro Martín.
Czech athletics will be represented by seven names, led by Eliška Martínková, seventh from the European Championships in Munich, who is also the ambassador of the championships, or Olympians Tereza Ďurdiaková and Vít Hlaváč.
The opening ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 20 at 7:00 p.m. at the fountain in the spa colonnade, where you can look forward to, among other things, a performance by The ABBA Revival band. On the race day, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., a rich accompanying program with a number of sports activities is also planned. The fan zone will include, for example, the popular Kids’ Athletics or a race walking workshop.