Slovakia's Matej Toth strode to a dramatic victory in the men’s 50-kilometre walk at the 2016 Rio Olympics on Friday.
World record-holder Yohann Diniz marched to the front from the off, although he was struck down with injury after halfway and fell back. That opened the door for the Slovakian world champion, finishing ahead of previous winner Jared Tallent, who took silver for Australia, and Japan's Hirooki Arai, who finished in the bronze medal position.
Here are the results from the event and a recap of how one of the most gruelling races on the Olympic schedule panned out in Rio de Janeiro.
|Men's 50KM Walk Result|
|Matej Toth (SVK) 3:40:58||Jared Tallent (AUS) 3:41:16||Hirooki Arai (JPN) 3:41:24|
Toth Executes Perfect Finish
Given the length of this event, the tactical battles towards the back end can be fascinating to watch. But as the fastest man in the field, Diniz decided to stamp his authority on the race very early on.
The 38-year-old was quick off the lane, moving to the front of the field quickly. None of the chasers were keen to go with the Frenchman, and as noted by the European Athletics Twitter feed, he’d built up a sizeable lead at the 15-kilometre mark:
European Athletics @EuroAthletics
World record-holder Yohann Diniz #FRA took out the 50km walk from the gun and leads by 53 seconds through 15km in 65:58. #rio2016 #olympics2016-8-19 12:12:20
It didn’t stop there either. The veteran walker, who set his world-record mark in 2014, continued to crank up the pace as he closed in on halfway, extending his lead to almost a kilometre between himself and the second group on the road.
Given the punishing heat in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, it left those in pursuit with a difficult challenge if they were to clinch gold. None quite had the ambition to make a break from the group to Diniz either. Two-time Olympian Colin Griffin wanted to see someone inject some pace from further back:
Colin Griffin @colingriffin
Early days but would like to see Diniz lead being pulled back. He will be getting more confident. Rob looks in control so far #50kmwalk2016-8-19 12:54:17
That didn’t materialise, though, as Diniz continued to stride away up front. At the midway point, he had a lead of one minute and 40 seconds and was looking extremely strong.
The halfway mark did prompt a surge from further back, with Canada's Evan Dunfee deciding to break away from the second group. He was narrowing the gap before the Frenchman dramatically pulled up with an injury. When Dunfee came past Diniz sought to carry on, although the Canadian quickly walked away from him and into the lead.
As noted by Today FM News, there was still time for sportsmanship from Dunfee in the heat of this battle for gold:
Gavan Reilly @gavreilly
What a lovely moment from Evan Dunfee to give Diniz a pat on the back like that #50kWalk2016-8-19 13:25:50
The Canadian was caught by the chasing pack, though, setting up an attritional finish. It seemed to suit Tallent, who moved to the front and built up a significant gap.
This one looked to be decisive, too, as the 2012 winner kept the cadence high and his stride long. As the race approached the final stages, the Australian managed to carve out what looked to be an insurmountable lead. But Toth suddenly upped the pace, and with one lap to go, he caught and overtook the champion.
Spikes were enjoying a dramatic finish to the race:
TOTH TO THE LEAD! OMG! Race walk = drama in slow motion #Rio2016 https://t.co/gaRzM1oHWT2016-8-19 14:33:15
It was enough for the Slovakian to clinch gold and soak in the moment as he crossed the line. Tallent had to make do with second place, while Arai held off a late burst from Dunfee for third.
Diniz will be distraught having looked in such good shape in the early stages. As a 34-year-old, he was disqualified at the London Olympics four years ago and had an excellent chance to grab glory again here. Surely that’s his last chance gone in terms of a medal at the Games.
Toth deserves major credit, though, as he kept his composure and paced himself supremely. To win both the world and Olympic titles represents a remarkable achievement for the Slovakian, and the manner in which he pulled this victory off will make the gold extra sweet.