Olympic Men’s 50K Walk — David Slays Goliaths

Poland’s previously obscure Dawid Tomala made his first trip to a major podium a golden one. (ANDREW McCLANAHAN/PHOTO RUN)

IN AN OLYMPICS full of stunning upsets, none was more stunning in track & field than Dawid Tomala’s.

So who is this 31-year-old from Tychy, Poland? His dossier is full of such unremarkable placings in major internationals as 16th, 36th, 19th, 48th, 35th and 17th.

But check a little further and you’ll see that all of those were earlier in his walks career and at the “sprint distance” of 20K. With Tokyo… errr, Sapporo on the horizon he had the brilliant foresight — pandemic and all — to build himself into a 50K man.

It was the decision that now assures his very special niche in the archives as he turned the 20th — and almost surely final — Olympic 50K Into a walkaway.

Competing in just the second 50 of his life, Tomala moved ahead of the early pacemakers — France’s Yohan Diniz at 5K, China’s Yadong Luo at 10, 15 & 20, Finland’s Veli-Matti Partanen at 25 — and blazed to golden glory, winning it going away in negative split fashion, 1:58:17/1:51:51, clocking in at 3:50:08.

Only in his final Ks on this brutally hot Friday morning did he begin to wilt. But even with a 5:30 a.m. start, as temps soared all these daunting souls plowed right on.

As Tomala — whose inspiration has forever been countryman and quadruple Olympic walks king Robert Korzeniowski — finally slowed to a concluding 5:10 kilo, persistent chaser Jonathan Hilbert hung on to claim silver in 3:50:44 and relive the distant days of German walk dominance.

The battle for bronze may have been the story of the day. Five years ago in Rio, Canada’s Evan Dunfee saw this medal slip out of his grasp in a weary, late-race tangle with Japan’s Hiroki Aria. But the former Simon Fraser University star — once the champion of the NAIA circuit — dug deep down into his energy reserves to battle past Spain’s Marc Turc, 3:50:59–3:51:08 in the race to the wire, and thus claim his nation’s first walk medal since Guillaume LeBlanc’s silver at 20K in ’92.

In the steambath the formchart went out the window and times were irrelevant. Tomala was the slowest winner since ’92. Pre-race top-3 picks Masatora Kawano of Japan, Luo of China and Satoshi Maruo of Japan wound up 6th, 28th & 32nd. Defending champ Matej Tóth of Slovakia struggled home 14th in 3:56:23. France’s Diniz, the WR holder (3:32:23 in ’14), bailed out after 28K.

The hotter topic was the demise of the 50K itself from the Games program, by IOC edict. Paris 2024 is likely to see some form — possibly mixed-sex — of a 35K, to go along with the existing 20.

Weary blasts were fired at the sport’s top brass by all the medalists:

“We can’t understand some decisions,” said Tomala.

“It’s a big mistake, a terrible mistake,” said Hilbert. “It’s passionate deep in our hearts.”

Said Dunfee, “I think we showcased today that this is an event that belongs in the Olympics. Every athlete from Dawid down to the athlete that crossed that finish line last embodied everything about the Olympics — the ability to endure. I will defend to my death the value and the merit of the 50K racewalk. It is heartbreaking.”

His 2-word summary of the WA/IOC decision: “Absolute bollocks.”


MEN’S 50K WALK RESULTS

(Sapporo, August 06; 5K loop) (temperature 77–86F/25–30C; humidity 86–79%)

1. Dawid Tomala (Pol) 3:50:08

(24:33, 23:49 [48:22], 23:33 [1:11:55], 23:10 [1:35:05], 23:12 [1:58:17], 23:04 [2:21:21], 21:13 [2:42:34], 21:11 [3:03:45], 22:01 [3:25:46], 24:22)

(1:58:17/1:51:51);

2. Jonathan Hilbert (Ger) 3:50:44

(1:58:17/1:52:27);

3. Evan Dunfee (Can) 3:50:59

(1:58:19/1:52:40);

4. Marc Tur (Spa) 3:51:08

(1:58:20/1:52:48);

5. João Vieira (Por) 3:51:28

(1:58:19/1:53:09);

6. Masatora Kawano (Jpn) 3:51:56

(1:58:17/1:53:39);

7. Tongda Bian (Chn) 3:52:01

(1:58:18/1:53:43);

8. Rhydian Cowley (Aus) 3:52:01 PR

(1:58:18/1:53:43);

9. Veli-Matti Partanen (Fin) 3:52:39; 10. Brendan Boyce (Ire) 3:53:40; 11. José Montaña (Col) 3:53:50; 12. Artur Brzozowski (Pol) 3:54:08; 13. Jorge Armando Ruiz (Col) 3:55:30; 14. Matej Tóth (Svk) 3:56:23; 15. José Ojeda (Mex) 3:56:53; 16. Quentin Rew (NZ) 3:57:33; 17. Máté Helebrandt (Hun) 3:57:53; 18. Diego Pinzón (Col) 3:57:54; 19. Andrés Chocho (Ecu) 3:59:03;

20. Bence Venyercsán (Hun) 3:59:05; 21. Qin Wang (Chn) 3:59:35; 22. Dzmitry Dziubin (Blr) 4:00:25; 23. Andrea Agrusti (Ita) 4:01:10; 24. Marius Cocioran (Rom) 4:01:43; 25. Maryan Zakalnytskyy (Ukr) 4:02:53; 26. Jarkko Kinnunen (Fin) 4:04:28; 27. Jonathan Javier Amores Carua (Ecu) 4:05:47; 28. Yadong Luo (Chn) 4:06:17; 29. Alex Wright (Ire) 4:06:20;

30. Hayato Katsuki (Jpn) 4:06:32; 31. Artur Mastianica (Lit) 4:06:43; 32. Satoshi Maruo (Jpn) 4:06:44; 33. Carl Dohmann (Ger) 4:07:18; 34. Bernando Uriel Barrondo (Gua) 4:08:34; 35. Jesús Ángel García (Spa) 4:10:03; 36. Aléxandros Papamihaíl (Gre) 4:12:49; 37. Arnis Rumbenieks (Lat) 4:13:33; 38. Aleksi Ojala (Fin) 4:14:02; 39. Valeriy Litanyuk (Ukr) 4:14:05;

40. Marc Mundell (SA) 4:14:37; 41. Michal Morvay (Svk) 4:15:22; 42. Nathaniel Seiler (Ger) 4:15:37; 43. Vít Hlaváč (CzR) 4:15:40; 44. Horacio Nava (Mex) 4:19:00; 45. Matt Bilodeau (Can) 4:20:36; 46. Lukáš Gdula (CzR) 4:33:06; 47. Claudio Villanueva (Ecu) 4:53:09;

… dnf—Yohann Diniz (Fra), Gurpreet Singh (Ind), Luis Angel Sánchez (Gua), Isaac Palma (Mex), Ivan Banzeruk (Ukr), Rafał Augustyn (Pol), Håvard Haukenes (Nor), Teodorico Caporaso (Ita), Luís Manuel Corchete (Spa), Marco De Luca (Ita).

…dq—Erick Barrondo (Gua), Ruslans Smolonskis (Lat).

(no American entries)

(5K leader splits: Diniz 23:58; Luo 47:57, 1:11:33, 1:35:04; Partanen 1:58:16; Tomala 2:21:21, 2:42:34) ◻︎

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