Olympic Women’s 20K Walk — Happy Birthday To Me!

Antonella Palmisano heel-and-toed her way to the ultimate 30th birthday present. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/PHOTO RUN)

GIORNI di FELICITA — days of happiness.

Team Italy’s streak of astounding Tokyo success continued with Antonella Palmisano’s rousing 1:29:12 triumph in a women’s 20K that completed the 3-race walk program crammed into a 26-hour stretch at Sapporo’s Odori Park.

A day after countryman Massimo Stano’s upset win in the men’s 20, Palmisano used similar tactics — shaking off her closest pursuers in the concluding kilometer to register an historic triumph.

All this on her 30th birthday.

Italian women had come close before — Elisabetta Perrone had taken a silver at 10K in ’96, Elisa Rigaudo a 20K bronze in ’08. But Palmisano finally crashed through to the top of the podium with a flawless walk that netted not a single judge’s paddle — or technique warning — while her principal rivals were having all manner of difficulty maintaining form in yet another steambath.

Palmisano’s time was 9 seconds slower than her 4th-place performance in Rio, but style and strategy made all the difference.

The T&FN formchart had even predicted a 1-2-3 China slam led by defending champion Hong Liu but it just wasn’t to be.

Liu did add a third medal to her collection — but it was another bronze in 1:29:57 as Sandra Arenas’s late rush got her the silver in 1:29:37 and Colombia’s first-ever walk medal, man or woman.

After maintaining lead-pack positioning much of the way, Spain’s Mária Pérez (1:30:05), Mexico’s Alegna González (1:30:33) and Australia’s Jemima Montag (1:30:39) went 4-5-6.

Chinese hopes slid further with Shijie Qieyang’s 7th (1:31:34) and ’17 world champion Jiayu Yang’s 1:31:54 slip to 12th after a 2-minute, third red card mandated a visit to the penalty zone.

“I really thought that fortune was on my side,” said new-30-something Palmisano, who’d shown her earlier ’21 fitness with a European Championships gold and was formcharted in the No. 4 position. “I knew what I had to do and I had that very image, the image of gold in my brain. It was my day, it’s my birthday, so it really is something fantastic.

“I needed to accelerate at the right moment, so that’s exactly what happened.” She’d opened with a conservative 4:50 kilometer loop. She blasted home with a 4:06 final K. Training through the pandemic only steeled her resolve — it was “time for me to rekindle my love for the sport.”

To Arenas, just 32nd at Rio but the ’19 Pan Am champion, “this medal is really for all Colombian people, and I am so proud and happy today.”

Hong is both resilient and stamina-laden. After a year off to have a child, she bounced back in 2019 as the first woman ever to walk 50K under 4:00 and then won the WC 20.

The U.S.’s undersung Robyn Stevens earned plaudits for her steady rise from the back of the 58-walker pack to 33rd at the end in 1:37:42.


(Sapporo, August 06; 2K loop) (temperature 88–86F/31–30C; humidity 64–69%)

1. Antonella Palmisano (Ita) 1:29:12

(23:04, 22:53 [45:57], 22:32 [1:08:29], 20:43) (45:57/43:15);

2. Sandra Arenas (Col) 1:29:37


3. Hong Liu (Chn) 1:29:57


4. Mária Pérez (Spa) 1:30:05


5. Alegna González (Mex) 1:30:33


6. Jemima Montag (Aus) 1:30:39


7. Shenjie Qieyang (Chn) 1:31:04


8. Antigóni Drisbióti (Gre) 1:31:24


9. Paola Pérez (Ecu) 1:31:26; 10. Katarzyna Zdziebło (Pol) 1:31:29; 11. Erica de Sena (Bra) 1:31:39; 12. Jiayu Yang (Chn) 1:31:54; 13. Nanako Fujii (Jpn) 1:31:55; 14. Raquel González (Spa) 1:31:57; 15. Kumiko Okada (Jpn) 1:31:57; 16. Elvira Khasanova (Rus) 1:31:58; 17. Priyanka Goswami (Ind) 1:32:36; 18. Valentina Trapletti (Ita) 1:33:12; 19. Mariia Sakharuk (Ukr) 1:34:04;

20. Ana Cabecinha (Por) 1:34:08; 21. Noelia Vargas (CRC) 1:35:07; 22. Meryem Bekmez (Tur) 1:35:08; 23. Nastassia Rarouskaya (Blr) 1:35:09; 24. María Luz Andia (Per) 1:35:25; 25. Sandra Galvis (Col) 1:35:36; 26. Brigita Virbalytė-Dimšienė (Lit) 1:35:56; 27. Hanna Shеvchuk (Ukr) 1:36:27; 28. Karla Jaramillo (Ecu) 1:36:32; 29. Kiriakí Filtisákou (Gre) 1:36:51;

30. Tereza Ďurdiaková (CzR) 1:36:58; 31. Anna Terlyukevich (Blr) 1:37:22; 32. Bhawna Jat (Ind) 1:37:38; 33. Robyn Stevens (US) 1:37:42; 34. Laura García-Caro (Spa) 1:37:48; 35. Jessica Ching Siu Nga (HK) 1:37:53; 36. Leidy Guerra (Per) 1:38:10; 37. Katie Hayward (Aus) 1:38:11; 38. Rebecca Henderson (Aus) 1:38:21; 39. Ayşe Tekdal (Tur) 1:38:40;

40. Kaori Kawazoe (Jpn) 1:39:31; 41. Evin Demir (Tur) 1:39:55; 42. Ayman Ratova (Kaz) 1:40:02; 43. Lyudmyla Olyanovska (Ukr) 1:40:20; 44. Mirna Ortiz (Gua) 1:40:23; 45. Mária Czaková (Svk) 1:41:29; 46. Barbara Kovács (Hun) 1:41:49; 47. Valeria Ortuño (Mex) 1:41:50; 48. Angela Castro (Bol) 1:42:25; 49. Viktoryia Rashchupkina (Blr) 1:43:33;

50. Mayra Carolina Herrera (Gua) 1:44:30; 51. Ilse Guerrero (Mex) 1:45:47; 52. Eleonora Giorgi (Ita) 1:46:36; 53. Panayióta Tsinopoúlou (Gre) 1:47:19;

… dnf—Glenda Estefanía Morejón (Ecu), Viktória Madarász (Hun), Yehualeye Beletew (Eth), Saskia Feige (Ger), Kimberley García (Per).

(5K leader splits: Qieyang 23:04; Palmisano 45:57; Liu 1:08:29)