The coronavirus pandemic decimated the spring road running and race walking calendar but the rescheduled International Race Walking Festival will take place in Alytus, Lithuania on Friday (18), kicking off a busy month of continental race walking action.
The International Race Walking Festival is one of three European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meetings to take place over the next three weeks and this will be the first significant fixture on European soil for race walkers aiming to seal the qualifying times (1:21:00 for men, 1:31:00 for women) for the Tokyo Olympic Games since the qualifying window reopened on 1 September.
The pandemic has added an extra challenge to the logistics for the organisers but athletes from 12 countries across Europe will be toeing the start-line at the 46th edition of this historic fixture in Lithuania’s sixth largest city. One of the requirements for athletes taking part is a negative coronavirus test taken within three days of travel to Lithuania.
The standout name in action in the men’s 20km race walk is Sweden’s reigning world bronze medallist Perseus Karlstrom who will be hoping for a successful return to Alytus. The 30-year-old won the individual title in commanding fashion at the European Race Walking Cup which was held in Alytus last May.
Another returning medallist from Alytus is Callum Wilkinson who helped Great Britain to their first ever team medal in the 20km race walk with an individual ninth-place finish. Wilkinson went on to win an individual bronze medal at the European Athletics U23 Championships in Gavle.
The men’s line-up features five race walkers with sub-1:20 lifetime bests. Karlstrom is the fastest on paper with a 1:18:07 clocking just ahead of Germany’s Christopher Linke (1:18:42) who succeeded Karlstrom as European Race Walking Cup winner in 2017.
Other notable entrants include Ukraine’s Ivan Losev (1:19:33) and Nazar Kovalenko (1:19:55) and home favourite Marius Ziukas (1:20:31).
Despite the surprise retirement earlier this year of Živilė Vaiciukeviciute at the age of 24, there are still hopes of a home victory in the women’s 20km race walk. The domestic interest is led by her twin sister Monika (1:32:39) and the long-time standard bearer of Lithuanian race walking Brigita Virbalyte-Dimsiene, the fastest on paper with a 1:27:59 PB.
The European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meeting series extends through until early October with events in Podebrady and Dudince rescheduled for 10 October.