by Perseus Karlstrom

I guess I was always going to be a race walker. It’s what I was born into, what I was brought up with.

My mother, Siv, was the best female race walker in the world in the early ’80s. My father, Enrique, won world silver in 1976 and 1979. She is Swedish, he is Mexican, and they met on a training camp in Mexico in the ’80s.  

They married, settled in Sweden, where I grew up along with my sister, Nashiele, and two older brothers, Ato and Remo, who were also race walkers.

The sport has been a part of me as long as I can remember. At four or five, I was following my Mom on the bike as she was training. I did my first race walk at the age of seven and, while I tried other sports – orienteering, football, ping-pong – none of them were as much fun as race walking.  

Growing up, I never knew my Mom had been the best in the world. I’d see the prizes around the house, trophies she’d won being used as flower pots, but it wasn’t until my late teens that I saw her gold medal from the World Race Walking Cup. She was very famous and successful, but her achievements weren’t something she bragged about.

She never pushed us into race walking, but once we came to it she gave us every encouragement, coaching me all the way up until the age of 25.

It’s a hard sport and, because we never had great depth in Sweden, I realised early on that I needed to do what my mother did back in the ’80s: go abroad and train with the world’s best.

If I wanted to become the best then I had to get an understanding of how much the best athletes do, what times they walk in sessions. That was always very natural my whole career and, given the harsh conditions in Sweden, I’ve gone to warmer climates for the winter ever since 2007.

In the beginning I went on altitude camps to Mexico because my Mom was friends with the father of Eder Sanchez, who was one of the top three in the world back then. In 2011, I went to Australia for the first time, training with the likes of Jared Tallent, Matej Toth, and later guys like Evan Dunfee.

Race walking is similar to multi-events in the bond that exists between competitors. Yes, we’re rivals, but we’re also friends, almost like a family.

Perseus Karlstrom ()

Because there’s not many of us at the top, we meet the same crew at each event and have a great connection, and it’s easy to set up a training camp with various nationalities, all of us hitting the road in big groups.

That camaraderie makes the grind of training a lot more fun.

I average about 100-110 kilometres per week but might go up to 140 during my heaviest training periods, along with a few gym sessions. In this game it’s all about consistency, and heading into 2019 I had the most consistent blocks of training in my whole career.

I knew it was going to be a good one.

Since November 2018 I’ve worked with an Australian coach, Brent Vallance, and what felt different last year was my results were consistently at a very high level. In the past I’d alternate between good and bad races.

Going into the World Championships in Doha, I was expecting a medal. I’d been outstanding the whole season and I knew I was in shape for the podium at 20km, but the great unknown was the weather. The conditions were frightening and I’m quite a big athlete, which is a big disadvantage in extreme heat. But I felt comfortable until we shifted pace at 14km.

Then things got very hard, very fast.

The last three kilometres were a big struggle, but when I crossed the line in third, it was an amazing feeling. I had always believed I could win a world medal, but to do it is another thing.

Perseus Karlstrom ()

My Mom, as always, was on the drinks table the whole race and it was also a very emotional night for her, having been with me all the way from my very first steps in the sport.

Of course, a result like that makes you think you can now do the same – or better – at the Olympics.

I don’t see any reason why I can’t improve before we get to Japan next year. It’s just a pity the race walks won’t take place in Tokyo, but more than 800km away in Sapporo.  

I’m not sure I’ll even be able to go to the Olympic village and meet the other Olympians. I might just be at the Swedish holding camp then go straight to Sapporo for the race and then back home. That’s a great pity because mixing with other nationalities and those from other sports is such a big part of the experience.

I can see why the International Olympic Committee made their decision. They saw the women’s marathon in Doha and got frightened, but to me this is the IOC trying to save their asses. They moved the marathons and race walks, but not other disciplines that might really be in danger in hot weather, like open water swimming or the triathlons, events where the water temperature will be right at the upper limit for safety.

It’s stupid to me, a really poor move, but it’s what we have to deal with and even if we miss out on that whole Olympic spirit, we’ll still make the most of what we have.

There’s a long time to go, and still a lot uncertainty in the world, so I don’t think about the Games too often. It was only 10 days before the World Championships that I started to think about that race and my approach will be the same next year: focusing on what work I need to get through.

But yes, I do have a goal, a dream, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic. It’s to be the Olympic champion.

Feature Image: Jessica Gow