Athletes and dignitaries highlighted how history will be made at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Antalya 24, on the eve of the competition in Turkiye on Sunday (21 April).

The marathon race walk mixed relay will make its Olympic debut in Paris in August, and WRW Antalya 24 is a qualifying event for the new discipline.

In addition to the mixed relay, the programme in Antalya features senior 20km and U20 10km races, and there is star quality across the board.

“This world-class competition has always been important to the race-walking community, but this edition is particularly significant because, of course, it is an Olympic qualifying event, with the Paris Games just three months away,” said World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon at the pre-event press conference held at the Dokumapark Modern Art Gallery in Antalya.

“That significance is further heightened because we are making some history tomorrow. For the first time in a major championship event, we have the marathon race walk mixed relay event that will be staged as a precursor to its introduction into the Olympic Games in Paris. I am really looking forward to seeing this new event live in action.

“I am also delighted that pretty much all of the top international race walkers worldwide are here in Antalya for this weekend’s action. Race walking is an element of the sport where nobody hides from head-to-head competition. It will be a truly top-tier competition.”

Turkish Athletic Federation President Fatih Cintimar reinforced the event’s importance.

“We are very honoured to have this competition in Turkiye. This is history for us and history for race walking,” he said.

“Seeing that 22 marathon race walk mixed relay teams will qualify for the Olympics is very important for us, too. Organising this big event with the Governor of Antalya, we are so honoured. Good luck to all the athletes competing tomorrow.”

Governor Hulusi Sahin said, ” This is a huge event for both Antalya and Turkiye. We are very honoured.

“Today is rainy and windy, but tomorrow we expect good weather with a beautiful atmosphere.”

Polish race-walking great Robert Korzeniowski was also in attendance as the World Athletics ambassador for the event.

The four-time Olympic and three-time world gold medallist shared his expectations for the competition: “Twenty years after I stopped my high-performance career, I have a chance to see my dear athletics event in very good shape – progressing into a new formula of competition. I am very excited to see tomorrow’s qualification for Paris.

“We also have the 20km races and the U20 categories. Focus on Olympic qualification but also look at the future champions. This is the future of our discipline.”

Among the current global champions in Antalya is Spain’s Alvaro Martin. After his double world title win in the 20km and 35km in Budapest, Martin will contest the mixed relay on Sunday.

“The main target is to qualify for the Paris Olympics. We have entered three strong teams and will aim for the two spots per country on offer,” he said.

Sunday’s competition will mark his second experience in the relay. Spain held a dress rehearsal on 10 March in Valencia, during which Martin and Laura Garcia-Caro clocked 2:57:04—the second-quickest ever time, only bettered by the Ecuadorian duo of Brian Pintado and Glenda Morejon.

“I hope that the opening experience gives me an advantage over the majority of the countries,” Martin added. I’ll only race 20km tomorrow, but in terms of effort, I think the mixed relay event is closer to 35km than to 20km because at the beginning of the second leg, you already feel tiredness.”

Australia’s Jemima Montag was only headed by Spain’s Maria Perez in the 20km event last year in Budapest. She has since improved her lifetime best to 1:27:09. She, too, has opted for the mixed relay in Antalya, where she will line up alongside Rhydian Cowley.

“I’m really excited ahead of tomorrow’s competition. Australia has entered a 20-athlete team in the different events, and we look forward to performing well here,” she said. “As for Rhydian, we have been training partners for the last 16 years, so we know each other well. I think this added team element lifts your energy.”

Morejon, who won the 35km at the last edition of the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships, said: “It’s an honour to be here. Alongside my coach, we have decided to focus solely on the 20km event to give a chance to my teammates for the mixed relay, but my plan is to double at the Paris Olympic Games, where I’ll be contesting the 20km and the relay.”

Her compatriot Jefferson Perez, the 1996 Olympic 20km champion, is also in Antalya. When asked about his presence at the event, she replied, “He is a big inspiration for the team, and it will be very motivating to have him cheering us on tomorrow.”

Sweden’s world 20km silver medallist Perseus Karlstrom will also compete in the individual 20km event on Sunday after taking 35km gold in Muscat two years ago.

“Race walkers form a big family. We meet several times yearly, and it’s always great to see each other,” he said. Asked about his favourites for the mixed relay, he replied: “I think the Mexican team have a very solid technique, so they could have a surprise medal tomorrow. When it comes to the best technician, I would team up with Antonella Palmisano from Italy.”

Palmisano will form part of one of the two Italian teams featuring Olympic champion Massimo Stano. Asked which event, the 20km or mixed relay, he considers tougher, Stano was adamant: “The relay, for two reasons. First, it’s a longer distance overall, and secondly, because it’s not easy to know what you should do between the two relay legs.”

For Salih Korkmaz, the event is a chance to race on home soil.

“We are a very strong team,” he said. “I am pretty sure we will be among those 22 teams (to qualify for Paris). I hope to have great results tomorrow.”