Polish athlete clearly wins his country’s fourth Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games and fourth 50km title in total on Friday in Sapporo
The 50km walk – first contested in the Olympics 1932 and here for the 20th and last time – saw a stunning win for Dawid Tomala, who destroyed the opposition over the second half with a brilliant display of walking.
At one stage it did look as if he would win by over three minutes after a bold mid race surge though a tough 5km meant the margin was down to 36 seconds at the end.
Apart from a great tactical win it was also a great technical victory as he didn’t receive a single warning as he won in 3:50:08 with a much faster second half.
Poland are having a great Games and this was their fourth gold in Tokyo after two hammer wins and a mixed relay title. This was also their fourth gold in the event after the triple success of Robert Korzeniowski between 1996 and 2004.
No one considered Tomala, though. Ranked 24th on 2021 times from his 50km debut when finishing fifth in Dudince. In his other major race of the year he was an anonymous 25th in Podebrady in the European Team Championships 20km.
While he was European under-23 champion 10 years ago, his best previous major result was a 19th in the 2012 Olympic 20km and he was only 25th in Doha.
Much to the home crowd’s disappointment, instead of the expected Asian dominance it was Europe who held all the cards as they took four of the first five placings.
Jonathan Hilbert just 23rd in Doha, took silver for Germany and there was a super fast finish for Evan Dunfee, fourth in Rio, who won Canada’s first ever medal in the event with a relative sprint finish.
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“It was an amazing day for me,” said Tomala, who says he switched to 50km walk because he was “bored” with 20km.
“I have worked for it since I was 15 when I thought for the first time during training I would like to be a (Olympic) gold medallist. At first I thought I wanted to win Olympic gold in the 20km, but this year changed everything. I competed over 50km in Dudince (finishing fifth). This was only the second 50km in my life and now I win the Olympic title. It is crazy, right?”
As for the race, switching the event from Tokyo can’t really be considered a successful move as despite the 5am start, the temperatures were stifling and soon edging up and then into the thirties with direct sun while Tokyo at the time was cloudy and very slightly cooler!
Sadly, there was no British representative in the field for an event won by the UK in 1932, 1936 and 1960 with British Athletics controversially turning down World Athletics invitations to Dominic King and Cameron Corbishley. However, there was a British representative among the judges with Cambridge Harriers’ Noel Carmody the chief lap counter.
Doha fifth-placer Ladong Luo, was the early leader.
But he was soon joined by world record-holder Yohann Diniz, who in his first competition for a few years was ahead at 5km in 23:58 with the Chinese on 24:00 and then there was a 31-second gap to a 35-strong pack led by Norway’s Rio seventh-placer Havard Haukenes (24:31).
Diniz was just ahead of Luo but then seemed to be seeking a loo as by 10km he was back in 58th (of 59 walkers) in 49:50 having stopped a couple of times.
Up ahead Lu was now out on his own on 47:57 having gone a very slightly quicker 23:57 for that split.
Tomala (48:22) led the pack which meant they were slightly closer to the lead and now numbered 23 who were slightly clear and that group included Ireland’s Brendan Boyce (48:24). Team-mate Alex Wright, a former Briton and Belgrave Harrier, switching allegiance in 2014, was 42nd in 48:37.
Luo’s pace had gradually picked up at 15km (71:33 for a 23:36 split) but Tomala (71:55 with a slightly quicker 23:33) was still ahead of a group which now was 19.
Diniz, after a few stops, was moving significantly faster than anyone again and a 22:51 saw him 44th in 72:31 but still a minute off the lead.
Just as they reached 20km (1:35:04), Luo had been caught despite his quickest split yet of 23:31 with now defending champion Matej Toth right behind on 1:35:05 (after a 23:10). There were 21 athletes within 10 seconds and Boyce was still in the lead group.
Now in 22nd on 1:35:31, Diniz (23:00 for that section) was closing on the main pack despite having turned round and walked the other way at one of the drinks stations having lost a further 10-15 seconds.
Halfway was passed with Finland’s Veli-Matti Partanen, who had a best global event result of just 41st, the official leader in 1:58:16 (after a 23:09 for that section) suggesting a 3:56 finishing time with Tomala and Haukenes still at the front.
Diniz was now back in the pack of 22 in 1:58:18 after a fast 22:47 split. At one stage he went back at a drinks station after being baulked and lost a few more seconds and then after halfway completely stopped again to drink and re-ice himself and in having accelerated to make the deficit up got a warning.
His revival didn’t last long as he came to a complete halt and stopped for a few minutes and had a chat before walking on and then finally sat down for good after 2 hours 14 of the event.
Tamala surprisingly pushed on alone to lead through 30km in 2:21:21 (23:04 split) for a nine second lead with the chasing group 19-strong. Over the next 2km lap, the Pole cut loose and went 50 seconds clear and the race finally looked on though no one in the group seemed too bothered and the gap was a yawning 1:22 at 34km.
At 35km the Pole was through in 2:42:34 having covered that 5km in a vicious 21:13 – almost two minutes quicker than the previous split.
Marc Tur of Spain led the group a huge 1:46 in arrears and the chase pack was down to 13 with Boyce (2:44:25) barely hanging on with Rio winner Toth (2:44:41) out of medal contention in 16th. A kilometre later the lead was over two minutes for the first time and he was clearly operating a a different level to his opponents going 20 seconds faster per 2000m lap.
He reached 40km in 3:03:45 – a 21:11 split the quickest yet meaning that last 10km was incredibly six minutes faster than his first.
The lead was now 2:50 with Germany’s Hilbert (3:06:35 after a 22:15), Finn Partanen, Spain’s Tur, Japan’s Masatora Kawano and 45-year-old Doha runner-up Joao Vierira of Portugal and Rio fourth-placer and Doha bronze medallist Dunfee and Australian Rhydian Cowley meaning only eight were now left in medal contention.
Japan, who went into the event with a possible clean-sweep mentioned, looked like they were out of it as the 22-year-old Kawano stopped and bent over on the ground and punched the road in frustration but he was able to recover and get back to the group.
Finally the leader did start to slow as he passed 45km in 3:25:46 (22:01) but he was still going away as the margin was now 3:10 (22:21 for the pack) with it now down to Hilbert, Tur, Vieira, Kawano and Dunfee in contention for silver and bronze.
Tomala, finally paid for his acceleration and slowed even more and he reached the start of the last lap with a two minute three second lead which meant he had lost a minute. Tur and Hilbert had moved away in the minor medal battle 13 seconds up on the Portuguese with Dunfee seemingly out of it.
The Pole grabbed a flag on the last bend and though looking really tired, held on to win by a minute in 3:50:08 – a last 5km of 24:22, three minutes down on his fastest 5km stretch.
The chasing pair really drove hard over the last lap and both received their second warning and were just one away from disqualification. They then eased back and while Hilbert pushed on again, Tur was caught just before the line by a late charging Dunfee.
Men's 50km race walk result
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) August 6, 2021
He couldn’t catch Hilbert though who was just 36 seconds back in the end after a 21:48 final 5km and Dunfee (3:50:59) took bronze by nine seconds. Vierira was a Portuguese best fifth in 3:50:59 while Kawano completed the top six.
Ireland’s Boyce finished 11th in 3:53:40.
Spain’s 51 year-old David Garcia competing in a record eighth Olympics, finished 35th after a tough final few laps. He first competed in the 1992 Olympics and finished fourth in 2008.