From the cradle of the current athletics to Czech worldliness
On 9 April 2016, the 84th edition of the Race Walk competition was held on a recently reconstructed surface in the Spa Park in Poděbrady. Czech race walkers measured their forces with international rivals within an international race or a meeting under the auspices of the European Athletics.
The history of race walking associated with Poděbrady dates back to the nineteenth century. However, a long tradition does not linger at present, to the contrary. Its freshness is demonstrated by at least two outstanding events: in 1997 the Czech Athletics celebrated one hundred years with a successful World Cup, and next year the elite from all over Europe will meet here at a similar event during the 120th anniversary of the local "queen of sports".
Everything started at the end of the nineteenth century, when the first sports clubs and competitions came to existence. The first 50k race walk competition from Karlín (in Prague) to Poděbrady was held in 1894 – i. e. two years before the first modern Olympic Games. The merit goes to pedestrians (the term used for race walkers then) from AC Královské Vinohrady who competed on the track for a club title.
It should be noted that the beginning was rather symbolic: no race took place until the end of the 1920s. Only with the introduction of 50k race walking at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1932, three years earlier – i.e. in 1929 – a new premiere took place. With the exception of four years during the WWII the "Poděbrady" race is held regularly. With regard to the change of rules (i. e. due to the recognition of World Records) since the 1990s the race has been organized at the 1k long town circuit in the Spa Park.
As a tribute to the glorious history, let's mention a few names. In the 1930s, a five-time winner was Jaroslav Stork-Žofka of AC Sparta, whose best result 4:40 lasted until 1946. It was the first triumph of the legendary Josef Doležal and his performance of 4:23:40 was the first of his three world records, which he exclusively achieved in "Poděbrady", reducing time to 4:16:06 (1954). From 1949 to 1955 he added unequalled seven wins in a row. The four-hour limit was then withstanding for nearly a quarter of a century, until the Mexican Raúl González beat the record in 1978 with 3:41:20. Only Pavol Szikora (from Czechoslovakia) managed to get close to the record on a classic track ten years later when his result was 3:46:52.
In April 1997, the small town on the Elbe River enjoyed a big sports event - a thousand participants and their teams, personal presence of the former IAAF president Primo Nebiolo. All this thanks to the organization of the 18th edition of the World Cup. The race walkers performed their excellent results, the best in that year: Jefferson Perez (Ecuador) race walked the 20 km track in 1:18:24 and Jesús Ángel García (Spain) made 50 km in 3:39:54.