Czech Republic’s rising home star Anezka Drahotova, who is still a junior, and Slovakia’s experienced Matej Toth took the honours at the Podebrady 2014 meeting on Saturday (12), the eighth of this year’s 12 events which count towards the 2014 IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
Both walkers, who coincidentally clinched their wins in the 17th kilometre of their 20km races in the in central Bohemian spa town, also definitely pressed their medal potential at the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup, which will be held in the Chinese city of Taicang on 3-4 May.
Getting the biggest cheers was obviously Drahotova, the first Czech woman to win in Podebrady after Lucie Pelantova in 2010, with the latter finishing second in the Czech championship on this occasion.
A leading group of five was established in the early stages of the women’s race, which included Drahotova. However, with the Prague Half Marathon still in her legs from last Saturday, and unlike her performance at last summer’s IAAF World Championships when she audaciously led the field for more than half the race, she was content to wait in the pack and letting her rivals to make the pace.
Just after 16km, with the leading group down to three, Drahotova decided that was her moment to put her foot on the accelerator and made her successful attack, uncorking a 4:16 kilometre after the pace had oscillated between 4:28 and the low 4:30s.
Further fast laps of the 1km course followed with her clocking 4:11, 4:19 and 4:16 for the final three circuits, before she crossed the line in 1:29:43.
Although it was more than a minute outside her national record and 2014 world junior leading time of 1:28:13 from Lugano, Switzerland, last month, it was still a solid performance form the Prague University Sports Club athlete, especially in the relatively warm conditions for the time of year.
“It wasn’t that easy as it might look like,” said the 18-year-old winner. “But I was really surprised what a solid pace I could keep. My coach (Ivo Pitak) was slowing me down at the beginning to go for a more tactical race. This was a good test before European Championships, and I want to thank the Lithuanian (Aidietyte) Neringa, who took the pace.
“Since I felt surprisingly comfortable, I could speed up in last kilometres and I was trying to set a good time for the organisers. In the end, I am happy to bring them time under 1:30 and win as well,” added Drahotova.
The win saw Drahotova move up to equal fourth in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge standings with 10 points from her two races in the series.
Her next goal is to win the junior 10km in Taicang, and the 2013 European junior champion in the 10,000m race walk on the track will be one of the favourites for the title.
Brazil’s Erica de Sena hung on for second place, exactly a minute and just under 250 metres behind Drahotova, in 1:30:43.
She improved her national record for the second time in a week. Eight days ago, she held the Brazilian national record with 1:31:53, clocked in 2012, but she raced to a time of 1:31:22 in the Portuguese event in Rio Maior last Saturday and improved that mark by another 39 seconds in Podebrady.
Neringa took third with 1:30:54, which was also a personal best.
Toth triumphs again
Five wins, spread between years 2003 and 2014, make Matej Tóth one of the most successful competitors in history of the event, which had its 82nd edition this year.
The 2010 IAAF World Race Walking Cup 50km winner also decided that the 17th kilometre was a good moment to make a push for home and he managed to put daylight between himself and Poland’s Rafal Fedaczynski, his last opponent in the fight for another victory.
With hands above his head in celebration, his last win coming two years ago, Matej crossed the line in 1:20:00; just shy of his recent personal best of 1:19:48 set across the border on home soil in Dudince last month.
“It was a bit tougher than last time in Dudince,” admitted Toth.
“I had to keep an eye on my rivals, but it was good preparation for the World Cup and I’m happy for the win. The 17th kilometre is a good point to attack, because the last kilometre can always be a danger; even a walker with weaker PB can do a strong finish.
“I tried to speed up a bit and Rafal couldn’t respond, then I enjoyed the emotions of winning. I must say, this race is matter of my heart and I always like to come back. I saw world class walking for the first time here, when I was 14 at the 1997 World Cup; that’s when my dreams about finishing on top of the podium started, and now those dreams are coming true,” he added with a smile.
The win also took Toth to the top of the 2014 IAAF Race Walking Challenge standings with 16 points.
Toth is going to Taicang to do the 20km and then he will prepare for the 50km event at the European Championships. His goals, as a world class athlete, must be medals at both events, he observed.
Fedaczynski took second place just 18 seconds behind Toth in 1:20:18 while Ukraine’s Andriy Kovenko, now 40, edged away from the other candidates for a place on the podium in the last three kilometres for third in 1:20:26, just six seconds outside his recent personal best.
Slovakia’s Miroslav Uradník and Italy’s Noemi Stella won the junior 10km races with times of 42:01 and 47:11 respectively.
Michal Procházka for the IAAF