Perseus Karlstrom’s productive summer in Australia continued to deliver outstanding results when he won the opening leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Adelaide on Sunday (11).
Competing in the Oceania 20km Race Walk Championships, Sweden’s Karlstrom added to his success in the Australian 50km Championships last December with a one-second victory over Lithuania’s Marius Ziukas in 1:20:30.
Australia’s Beki Smith won the women’s race from compatriots Jemima Montag and Claire Tallent in 1:31:23.
Karlstrom is not eligible for either the Oceania title or the Australian title, which were also decided in the Adelaide race, but he will no doubt feel that a win over a strong field in something close to his best time is adequate compensation.
Chile’s Yerko Cortes took third place in 1:21:31. New Zealand’s Quentin Rew took the Oceania title in fourth place.
Olympic bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith had been favourite to win the men’s race, but he arrived in Adelaide with a heavy cold and was happy just to get through the race in fifth place, nearly two minutes behind the winner. That also gave him a hat-trick of Australian titles and four of the past five.
Cool change brings relief
A cool change on the eve of the race spared competitors from earlier predicted temperatures of about 30C. Instead, the 7am start saw the race get under way in temperatures in the mid-teens, good conditions for the flat course along Memorial Drive which largely follows the banks of the Torrens River on the edge of Adelaide’s CBD.
The surprises started early in the men’s field, with Bird-Smith not the dominant player as expected. He said after the race that he had arrived in the South Australian capital two days earlier feeling “crook (sick) as” and acknowledged that his 1:22:18 performance represented a “shocking race.”
“It’s one of those things I’ll laugh about later but (now) everything hurts.”
Canada’s Evan Dunfee was also struck down by the leadership curse, forced to withdraw just after 12 kilometres with hamstring soreness while leading the race.
None of that worried Karlstrom, however, who started to dominate proceedings just past the half-way point. Ziukas and, initially, Bird-Smith stayed close, but in the final stages it was a race between the Swedish athlete and the Lithuanian.
Narrowly, Karlstrom prevailed, with Cortes and Rew also coming through to pass the hurt and tiring Bird-Smith. 32-year-old Michael Hosking came through to take sixth place, and the Oceania bronze medal, in 1:23:10, some 90 seconds faster than his previous best.
A trio of Poles – Rafal Augustyn, Rafal Fedaczyski and Damien Blocki – filled places seven to nine. Six nations were represented in the top 10 of the men’s race.
Winner Karlstrom comes from a strong race walking background. His father, Enrique Vera, won a silver medal for Mexico at the 1976 World Championships in Malmo which were staged by the IAAF after the International Olympic Committee controversially dropped the men’s 50km from the Montreal 1976 Olympic programme. His mother, Siw, took the 10km race walk bronze medal at the 1986 European Championships.
Karlstrom’s brother, Ato (Anatole) Ibanez, joined him in the Swedish team at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 where both competed in the 20km event. Ibanez has also competed in Australia several times previously.
Smith makes it to the top
By contrast to the men’s event, the women’s 20km was a largely domestic affair with just two international visitors in the top 10 out of three overall. New Zealand’s Alana Barber finished fourth overall, while Brigita Virbalyte-Dimsiene of Lithuania was sixth. The top three in both the race overall and the Oceania Championship were Australians.
After finishing second at the Oceania Championships in 2015 and third last year (both in Adelaide), 31-year-old Beki Smith stepped up to the top of the podium when she strode decisively clear of domestic rivals Jemima Montag and Claire Tallent on the final loop along Memorial Drive.
Smith, a 2012 Olympian and two-time World Championships representative, maintained her edge to defeat Montag by three seconds in 1:31:23 with Tallent a further three seconds behind. It was the same time as she walked in this race last year, but this time it came gift-wrapped with her first continental – and national – title at 20km.
“It’s such a relief,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. I’m a bit emotional. It’s really something that I’ve wanted for a long time so it’s super exciting.”
Barber was fourth, the same position she occupied last year, while 2017 winner Regan Lamble, Australia’s top performer at the World Championships last year, was fifth, one place ahead of last year’s second-place finisher, Virbalyte-Dimsiene.
Montag, who does not turn 20 until this week (15 February), was 12th as a 16-year-old in the U20 race at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Taicang four years ago. She is now likely to return this year for the senior event.
Len Johnson for the IAAF