The Luzhniki Stadium was not quite filled to capacity for the first event of the afternoon session on Sunday, and the first gold medal to be decided on the second day of the IAAF World Athletics Championships, but Russian athletics fans were still able to raise to roof to applaud the unexpected triumph of their compatriot Aleksandr Ivanov.
The 2012 World Junior Championships 10,000m silver medallist raced a brilliant final 5km to win the gold medal in a personal best of 1:20.58, becoming the youngest ever winner of a man's Race Walk title at the World Championships.
Behind him, China’s London 2012 Olympic champion Chen Ding showed no signs of the back problems and lack of training that Chinese officials said last week would rule him out of challenging for the gold medal and he came home second in 1:21.09 in his first completed race since his triumph last summer.
The first half of the race had certain similarities to the London contest with Japanese vests to the fore as first Takumi Saito and then Yusuke Suzuki led the race.
By 10km, passed in 40:34 after two perfectly even 5km splits of 20:17, Suzuki had a 13-second lead over a seven-man chasing group, which included Chen, Guatemala’s Olympic silver medallist Erick Barrondo, China’s Olympic bronze medallist Wang Zhen, Ivanov, Saito, France’s Bertrand Moulinet and India’s Ifran Kolothum Thodi.
However, Suzuki’s wheels soon started to come off as Wang went to the front and picked up the pace, only for the Chinese walker to pick up his third yellow card and be disqualified at 14km.
At the 15km checkpoint, passed in 1:00.41, the leading group consisted of just Chen, Ivanov and Barrondo.
Ivanov soon surged, dropping Chen and then briefly Barrondo, only for the Guatemalan to get his second wind and get back on level terms with the Russian just after 16km.
However, his efforts also involved infringements and he incurred the third of his red cards before being hauled off the course by officials as he passed the 18km point while accompanying Ivanov.
Behind him, Chen was 50 metres in arrears but raised his arm and started wearing a broad smile, knowing that he was as-good-as assured a medal.
However, it wasn’t to be another gold as Ivanov held his form and poise, coming home without a warning, to clinch an unexpected gold despite Russia’s success over the years at this event and having the 2011 champion Valeriy Borchin, who was sadly unable to defend his title due to injury.
To consolidate the impression that this was a surprise victory, it was also Ivanov’s first win in any race since he won indoors in a low-key local 5000m in January last year, and he even had to settle for the silver medal at the recent European Athletics Under-23 Championships.
Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez had an astute race to come home third in 1:21.21. After being fourth at 15km, he maintained his rhythm over the final stretch to bring a smile to Spanish athletics fans after the country went without a medal at the Olympic Games last summer.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF