The grand finale of the inaugural marathon race walk mixed relay at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Antalya 24 on Sunday (21) was nothing short of breathtaking. In an unforeseen twist, Valentina Trapletti and Francisco Fortunato, representing Italy as the second team, clinched a surprising victory in the closing race of the day.

Initially, it appeared that Caio Bonfim and Viviane Lyra had propelled Brazil to a historic first team triumph on the global stage. However, fate intervened when Lyra received a penalty just 2km from the finish line, forcing Brazil to endure a three-minute setback and allowing Japan to snatch the title.

Yet, 38-year-old Trapletti showcased remarkable determination. Despite grappling with tense neck muscles and struggling for breath, she surged in the final kilometer, overtaking Kumiko Okada to secure Italy’s place atop the podium in 2:56:44, narrowly surpassing the world lead by four seconds.

Photo © Francesca Grana

Meanwhile, Okada and Koki Ikeda of Japan played it safe, securing second place by maintaining a steady pace and avoiding risks, despite receiving two red cards each. Spain claimed the third spot on the podium, with Alvaro Martin and Laura Garcia-Caro delivering a commendable performance.

Despite their country’s efforts to assemble formidable race-walking pairs, unexpected challenges arose. Although Martin and Maria Perez, both double world gold medalists, appeared to be a formidable duo on paper, Perez incurred a penalty alongside Miguel Angel Lopez, ultimately impacting their team’s performance.

Furthermore, Italy faced an early setback when Massimo Stano sustained a foot injury just 4km into the race. Despite Stano’s struggles, Olympic gold medalist Antonella Palmisano stepped in, but the absence of a third team member during the crucial leg changeover hindered Italy’s first team.

The race began with 67 teams braving scorching conditions, with 60 teams crossing the 1km mark within five seconds of each other. Despite the intense competition, athletes maintained a steady pace of approximately four minutes per kilometer, resulting in a closely contested field.

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As the race progressed, elite teams emerged, with Australia, Spain, China, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and Poland vying for supremacy. However, it was Japan that initially surged ahead, only to be overtaken by Brazil and China in subsequent legs.

Ultimately, Trapletti’s heroic effort propelled Italy to victory, with Japan and Spain securing second and third place, respectively. Despite enduring a penalty, Brazil and Australia finished fifth and sixth, showcasing their resilience in the face of adversity.