Perseus Karlstrom likes coming to Australia. The Swedish race walker has come ‘down under’ each of the past few southern hemisphere summers.
Usually, they are enjoyable visits. Karlstrom has not lost a race in Australia since early 2016 and set his personal bests here for the events at either extreme of his range – the 50km road distance and 5000m on the track – in December 2017.
Now Karlstrom has a record to defend. Last year he won the 20km at the opening leg of the 2018 IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Adelaide. He will start as one of the favourites this Sunday morning (10), but extending his unbeaten run will be no easy matter.
Karlstrom faces a strong field, led by world champion Eider Arevalo and Olympic bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith.
The field for the women’s event does not run as deep, but still boasts strong numbers at the top, headed by Sandra Arenas, Commonwealth champion Jemima Montag, Brigita Virbalyte-Dimsiene, Claire Tallent and Alana Barber.
Oceania and Australian titles to be decided
In addition to the points on offer in the Race Walking Challenge, two titles will be decided in Adelaide. The event is again serving as the Oceania area and the Australian national championships. For Australian athletes, it will also serve as a selection trial for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
There is a limited amount of form to go on at this early stage of the World Championships year, but Karlstrom brings some strength to the starting line. Many of the international competitors in the races have been in Canberra for training and some track racing.
Two 10,000m track races have recently been held in Australia and Karlstrom has won both, recording 38:52.76 on 9 January to win by more than a minute over Mauricio Arteaga, and then 39:20.81 ahead of Evan Dunfee and Rhydian Cowley on 28 January.
Arevalo did not compete in either race, nor did Bird-Smith, but both will be threats on Sunday.
The Colombian world champion has a personal best of 1:18:53. Bird-Smith won the Commonwealth title on the Gold Coast last April, defeating Britain’s Tom Bosworth, but has raced only once since.
Nonetheless, the Australian will want to win both the race and the two titles on offer to compensate for his performance last year when he arrived in Adelaide with a heavy cold and could finish no higher than fifth.
Yerko Araya of Chile finished third last year and showed he was in shape with a fifth place in the 10,000m in Canberra at the end of last month. Dunfee’s chances cannot be discounted, while other internationals who could be prominent include New Zealand’s Quentin Rew, Mexico’s Ever Palma and Polish trio Damian Blocki, Artur Brzozowski and Rafal Sikora.
Jared Tallent also competed in the Canberra 10,000m, finishing 23rd in 44:21.55. The significance of that performance was that it was the first race the 2012 Olympic 50km champion has finished in almost two years. He said this week he would be using the Adelaide race as a build-up towards a return to the 50km distance.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said this week. “I’ll probably be around the 86-minute mark, so nothing flash.”
Montag looking to go one better than 2018
Last year’s women’s race saw Jemima Montag start a rapid transition from promising former junior (12th in the U20 race at the 2014 IAAF Race Walking World Cup) to Commonwealth champion in two months.
Three Australians – Beki Smith, Montag and Claire Tallent – fought out the finish in Adelaide, with Smith taking the victory. Montag beat Tallent for second then beat her again on the Gold Coast (Tallent was disqualified just after taking the lead late in the race).
Their paths have diverged since then, Montag sticking with the 20km distance while Tallent has stepped up into the 50km. The younger athlete may have the edge at the shorter distance.
Both face tough opposition from a trio of internationals in Sandra Lorena Arenas, Brigita Virbalyte-Dimsiene and Alana Barber. Arenas beat Montag, 43:41.51 to 43:59.46, over 10,000m in Canberra, while Virbalyte-Dimsiene will be keen to improve on her sixth-place finish a year ago. New Zealand’s Barber usually races aggressively and will be out to challenge the Australians for the Oceania title.
The races will be contested on a course on the banks of the River Torrens in Adelaide’s inner-city parklands.
Len Johnson for the IAAF