Despite his victory at the famous Lugano race back in March, there is no doubt that Ruslan Dmytrenko’s 20km win at the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup was the most surprising of the weekend.
With all eyes on Russia’s reigning world champion Aleksandr Ivanov and China’s Olympic champion Chen Ding, Dmytrenko made his bid for glory just under three kilometres from home to get Ukraine’s first ever individual medal at the Cup, crossing the line in a national record of 1:18:37 to clinch gold and the first prize of US$30,000 on Sunday (4).
Approximately two minutes later, it was confirmed that not only would the Ukrainian national anthem be heard once but twice in Taicang, as his compatriots had provided two other men in the top 10 and they had taken the team title with 18 points.
It was a magnificent performance from the 28-year-old Dmytrenko, whose previous best performance at a major championship was getting the silver medal at the 2013 World University Games, although he was just off the podium at the last edition of the Cup in 2012.
“Taicang has been a miracle for me,” said the elated and slightly stunned Dmytrenko. "I was very happy with my seventh place at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu and my fourth place in the Cup in Saransk two years ago, but I was not so happy with my seventh place in Moscow at the World Championships last summer.
“However, despite being good shape (after his win at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge race in the Swiss city of Lugano) before the race, this result was still unimaginable,” he added.
Dmytrenko not only battled his rivals on the road but also the elements, as the rain got steadily heavier during the course of the race, but he still managed to produce an outstanding negative split, walking the second half of the race almost two minutes faster than the first.
“Indeed, I think the fact that it was raining so hard actually helped bring out my best performance,” said Dmytrenko, reflecting on the fact that he was able to cool down as the pace hotted up.
The chilly downpour started as steady drizzle. Firstly Japan’s Takumi Saito and then Korea’s Hyunbsub Kim both made early breaks as the rest of the large field felt its way cautiously around the increasingly slippery 2km circuit. The first 2km was completed in 8:13 and then 4km in 16:19, respectably quick but not breathtakingly so.
On the third lap, as the deluge started to increase in intensity, it was the turn of defending 20km champion Wang Zhen to force the pace a little but a huge group was still massed behind him as he passed 6km in 24:19.
The game of pass-the-parcel at the front continued with Ukraine’s Nazar Kovalenko taking his turn as the leader for much of the fourth lap, crossing the line after 8km in 32:17. However, all the expected main medal contenders were still in the group he was pulling along.
As the pace gradually increased, especially on the fifth lap, the halfway point was then passed in a speedy 40:10 with Ivanov showing at the front for virtually the first time, while most of the other main protagonists were still continuing to eye each other up.
However, the rise in tempo on the fifth lap had seen the leading group reduced to 10.
China’s Cai Zelin, fourth at the 2012 Olympics and a Cup junior men’s silver medallist in 2010, was the next man to test the mettle of the men around him and started to push the pace as it became ever more clear that his more illustrious compatriot Chen was starting to struggle. The Olympic champion was lodged at the back of the group which went through 12km in a speedy 47:53 after the fastest lap of the race so far.
Chen can't stay the course
Chen briefly seemed to get his second wind, after looking set to be dropped on the sixth lap, and moved up quickly to the front to show that he had not thrown in the towel. He was accompanied by Ivanov and his fellow Russian Andrey Ruzavin in slightly putting daylight between himself and the other seven race walkers, but he then slipped back again and was never a medal contender again as Wang went back to the front and led through 14km in 55:49.
The next lap saw, to the disappointment of the crowd, China’s hopes of either an individual or team gold medal take a battering as firstly Chen and then Wang dropped off the back of the group of potential medal contenders. Ruzavin had put in a strong stint at the front and had gone through 15km in 59:44, before just stepping off the pedal and letting others in the six-man lead group – which was now Ivanov, Ruzavin, Dmytrenko, Cai, Japan's Yusuke Suzuki and Colombia's 2012 junior men’s winner Eider Arevalo – do some of the work.
With two laps to go, the clock read 1:03:31 and a few hundred metres further Cai decided it was the right time to make a move, but that effort was only sustained for barely a kilometre before Dmytrenko made his own decisive surge for home.
Cai, grimacing, was 30 metres back at the bell, reached by Dmytrenko in 1:11:04. There was another 15 metres back to Suzuki, as the leading pair furiously pounded the streets of Taicang but maintained their poise and technique all the way to the line to take the gold and silver medals, the latter clocking 1:18:52 to finish 15 seconds behind the exultant but exhausted winner.
Behind the leading pair, there was drama in the battle for the bronze medal as firstly Ivanov and then Arevalo picked up their third and final warnings and were disqualified in the 19th kilometre. An inspired Ruzavin executed a late charge which saw him go past Suzuki just after entering the final kilometre and eventually clinching third place in 1:18:59.
Suzuki crossed the line fourth, 20 seconds further back, followed home by Spain’s fast-finishing world bronze medallist Miguel Angel Lopez, who finished fifth in a personal best of 1:19:21.
After all 100 finishers had been counted home, China took the team silver medals with 23 points – with Wang sixth and Chen 15th – while his team-mates packed well enough to provide Suzuki with a reason to climb the podium as Japan took the bronze medals with 35 points.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF