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Evan Dunfee takes bronze in the 50K race walk

In the extreme heat and humidity, Evan Dunfee made a heroic push to move from fifth to third in the final kilometres of the race

On an incredibly hot, humid day in Sapporo, Canada’s Evan Dunfee unleashed an astonishing finishing kick for the bronze medal in the men’s 50K race walk. In the last two kilometres it appeared as though the Richmond, B.C. native was going to end up fourth yet again, but he managed to pass Spain’s Marc Tur in the final stretch for third place in a season’s best time of 3:50:59. This is the first time Canada has won a medal in a race walk event since Guillame LeBlanc took silver in the 20K in Barcelona in 1992.

Yadong Luo of China strode out in front at the start, putting distance between himself and the pack, but he was reeled in before the race was half over. Defending gold medallist from Rio Matej Toth of Slovakia held a strong position in the main pack in the early kilometres, but soon dropped behind and ended up 14th. World record holder Johann Diniz of France had stomach issues and was forced to stop multiple times, each time working to catch up, but he eventually dropped out between 25 km and 30 km. As the race wore on and racers began to tire, red paddles came out, warning individuals that they were in danger of form violations, and two walkers were eventually disqualified. (Race walkers must maintain contact with the ground at all times, and their lead leg must be kept straight through their stride. They may receive time penalties before being DQ’d.)

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Dawid Tomala of Poland began to break away from the pack just before the 30K mark and created a 40-second gap within a few kilometres — a risky move for someone who was one warning away from receiving a five-minute penalty for breaking form. Canada’s Evan Dunfee stayed with the lead pack through 32K and then began pushing the pace to lead the chase pack, but Tomala continued to increase his distance from the rest of the field. By the 36K mark, the Polish walker had created a gap of more than two minutes. Dunfee broke away from the pack to chase him down, but they closed his gap fairly quickly. They remained a group of five until the last five kilometres, when Dunfee began to fall off the pace. He made a brave push to try and catch back up, but the second, third and fourth-place walkers continued to distance themselves from them. It looked as though Dunfee was going to have to settle for fifth, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, he came back to catch Joao Vieira of Portugal and Tur of Spain to take the bronze medal, a perfect redemption after his fourth-place finish in Rio five years ago.

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Jesus Garcia of Spain finished 35th at age 51, competing in his eighth Olympic Games, an all-time record in athletics. Canada’s Mathieu Bilodeau finished 45th in his first Olympic Games in 4:20:36. Out of the 59 athletes who started the race, only 47 crossed the finish line.

Massimo Stano breaks away for gold over favourites in the 20K race walk 

The men’s 20km race walk kicked off the events in Sapporo on Thursday morning. Although there were no Canadians in the events, all athletes faced extreme temperatures and a daunting test of speed and endurance. Massimo Stano of Italy stayed with the lead pack through 15 km of the 20km race walk and kicked and never let up over the final 5 km, finishing with a time of 1:21:05 to secure the gold medal for Italy.

Most of the athletes who crossed the line were dripping with sweat, as temperatures hit 32 C with 70 per cent humidity. Pre-race favourites Koki Ikeda and Yamanishi Toshikazu of Japan took silver and bronze for their gruelling effort. Although Stano remained in the pack of leaders through most of the race, the Japanese duo pushed the pace early on.

The field shifted after 10 km, as athletes began to fall off and drop out due to the heat, while Stano, Ikeda, Toshikazu and Diego Garcia of Spain broke away. Stano pushed himself into the lead during the final stretch, earning his first Olympic medal in his Games debut. They will be singing Stano’s name in Italy tonight as he adds to the great performances Italian athletes are having in athletics at the Tokyo Games.

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Italy doubles up on gold in the women’s 20K race walk 

Antonella Palmisano followed in the footsteps of her training partner Stano and won another Olympic gold for Italy in the women’s 20km walk – and better off – it was her 30th birthday on the day of the race. 

Palmisano upgraded her Olympic performance and she just missed the podium in Rio finishing fourth. Her victory in Sapporo sealed the double for Italy the Games, joining China as the only country who has won both the men’s and women’s 20km race walking events at an Olympic Games. Palmisano gold medal adds to the memorable track and field for Italy, who finished the games with five golds across the disciplines.

This was Italy’s first gold in the women’s race walking event, Palmisano crossing the line in a time of 1:29:12. Colombia’s Sandra Arenas claimed silver and China’s Liu Hong, who won gold at the Rio 2016, took home the bronze.

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