GIVEN THE 31-degree Celsius reading (worth 88 on the Fahrenheit charts) half an hour before midnight, combined with 74% humidity, it was a miracle anyone at all survived all 50 kilometers (31.1 miles) of the longest—and surely toughest—event on the program. That 28 of these hardiest-of-hardies, gutsiest-of-all-gutsies finished the race at all was a tribute to the human spirit, as 18 others fell to the wayside—or gave in to basic human-survival instincts.
The DNF list was as impressive as the ADF (actually did finish) array. This walk-in sauna’s hit list included such celebrities of the game as WR holder/defending champ Yohann Diniz, reigning Olympic gold medalist Matej Tóth and South American record-setter Andrés Chocho.
Then again, give fullest credit Japan’s Yusuke Suzuki (the 20K WR holder making just his second start at the 50K distance), grizzled Portuguese veteran João Vieira (at 43, not willing to concede a thing to the kids) and Canada’s Evan Dunfee (who had no intention of repeating his frustrated and flummoxed 4th at Rio in 2016). They walked off with the medals—and the quickest trips to the resuscitation tent.
Suzuki, 31, walking in relaxed and stylish form virtually throughout—except for a brief “comfort break’” and a few short strolls through the hydration zone—took the lead at the very outset as Saturday gave way to Sunday and was never headed, On this floodlit 2K road course of 25 laps he reeled off all but a few of his kilometers in under 5:00 and was able to cross the line—delirious and delighted—in 4:04:20. He had “gutted it out” from the front and willed his way to stay there till they told him he could sit down and smile. He’d been best known as a “sprint” walker but opted out of the Doha dash. His debut at the 50K had been auspicious—a Japanese Record of 3:39:07 earlier this year. A groin injury had kept him sidelined much of the last 3 campaigns.
Vieira moved up gradually throughout and was able to claim the silver in 4:04:59, just a few blocks short of the gold. Dunfee, too, played it smart. “I knew that going out fast early was going to be a disastrous race strategy, so I just tried to stay calm, keep myself collected.” This became his first international podium finish—making him “super thrilled, super happy.” Dunfee, a graduate of the University of British Columbia and thus a tribute to the NAIA’s collegiate walking program, held 4th after 49K but somehow was able to dig down even further to pass struggling Wenbin Niu of China (4:05:36) as the finish neared to claim the bronze in 4:05:02—and make this a happy 29th birthday celebration.
Suzuki was a bit of a wreck when it was over. Dehydration and cramps got to him. Like many, he needed a good icebath to regain full mobility. Then again, he knew Doha was the kind of test he needed for next year’s home Olympics where he’ll be a major icon for the Games. “We’ll have very similar temperature, humidity, everything,” he said.
Vieira, the wise vet competing in his 11th Worlds, was destined to be the oldest medal-winner on the whole Doha program, but he wasn’t the only many-timer on the course. Special plaudits went to Spain’s 8th-placed Jesús Ángel García, at 49 and just 2 weeks shy of his 50th birthday, finishing yet another 50K. The ’93 winner, competing in his record 13th WC, calls himself “the Peter Pan of racewalking, eternally young.”
WC MEN’S 50K WALK
(September 28–29; 5K loop) (temperature 88–86F/31–30C; humidity 74–70%)
1. Yusuke Suzuki (Jpn) 4:04:20
(always the leader—24:32, 24:39 [49:11], 24:29 [1:13:40], 23:55 [1:37:35], 23:32 [2:01:07], 24:48 [2:25:55], 23:36 [2:49:31], 23:50 [3:13:21], 25:20 [3:38:41], 25:39) (2:01:07/2:03:13);
2. João Vieira (Por) 4:04:59 (2:05:32/1:59:27);
3. Evan Dunfee (Can) 4:05:02 (2:05:39/1:59:23);
4. Wenbin Niu (Chn) 4:05:36 (2:04:45/2:00:51);
5. Yadong Luo (Chn) 4:06:49 (2:04:47/2:02:02);
6. Brendan Boyce (Ire) 4:07:46 (2:05:38/2:02:08);
7. Carl Dohmann (Ger) 4:10:22 (2:06:26/2:03:56);
8. Jesús Ángel García (Spa) 4:11:28 (2:06:27/2:05:01);
9. Maryan Zakalnytskyy (Ukr) 4:12:28;
10. Narcis Mihaila (Rom) 4:13:56;
11. Quentin Rew (NZ) 4:15:54;
12. Ato Ibáñez (Swe) 4:17:04;
13. Rafał Augustyn (Pol) 4:20:25;
14. Matt Bilodeau (Can) 4:21:13;
15. Artur Mastianica (Lit) 4:21:54;
16. Michele Antonelli (Ita) 4:22:20;
17. Aléxandros Papamihaíl (Gre) 4:22:39;
18. Horacio Nava (Mex) 4:24:16;
19. Marc Tur (Spa) 4:24:38;
20. Jarkko Kinnunen (Fin) 4:25:36;
21. Arnis Rumbenieks (Lat) 4:28:18;
22. Artur Brzozowski (Pol) 4:30:17;
23. Jonathan Hilbert (Ger) 4:30:43;
24. Marc Mundell (SA) 4:41:39;
25. Valeriy Litanyuk (Ukr) 4:42:18;
26. Bence Venyercsán (Hun) 4:45:04;
27. Hayato Katsuki (Jpn) 4:46:10;
28. Rafał Sikora (Pol) 4:50:08;
… dnf—Ivan Banzeruk (Ukr), Teodorico Caporaso (Ita), Andrés Chocho (Ecu), Dzmitry Dziubin (Blr), José Ignacio Díaz (Spa), Yohann Diniz (Fra), Máté Helebrandt (Hun), Tomohiro Noda (Jpn), Isaac Palma (Mex), Veli-Matti Partanen (Fin), Nathaniel Seiler (Ger), Matej Tóth (Svk), Claudio Villanueva (Ecu), Qin Wang (Chn).
… dq—Cameron Corbishley (GB), Håvard Haukenes (Nor), Dominic King (GB), Ruslans Smolonskis (Lat).
(no American entries)