Sergey Kirdyapkin of Russia on his way to winning the 50km race in Saransk (Getty Images) © Copyright
Just when Igor Erokhin thought he had nailed down his first major gold, a man who has two of them decided otherwise.
Sergey Kirdyapkin shot to the left of his team-mate and drew reserves from somewhere to sprint ahead and win by just two seconds.
The chances are the former IAAF World champion would still have been able to dive over the line and win. But Erokhin’s hopes of reducing the gap to a photo were hardly helped when he got slightly misdirected at the finishing line.
As he was shunted left to follow Kirdyapkin, there was a lingering thought it might have been closer still had the silver medallist followed the right line.
It seemed to matter little as both flung tired arms around each other in exultation, and it meant a return to the top of the podium for Russia at 50km for the first time since the event was last held here in 2008.
It had been on the cards from the start.
Admittedly, Jared Tallent held first from the gun until just over 41km, but when the hammer went down from the Russian pair – the Australian went backwards at a rate of knots but headed towards his second bronze after winning the same medal in 2010.
Tallent and Chinese Jianguo Zhao laid down an early marker and made as much as 80 metres on the entire Russian team of five.
But Zhao had clearly overcooked it and no sooner had he past 20km in a little over 1:28:00 he pulled off the course and left it to Tallent and the red vests.
Five became three Russians at halfway reached in 1:49:20 when Tallent, Sergey Bakulin and Erokhin creviced open an 18-seconds gap over Kirdyapkin, Ivan Noskov and Mikhail Ryzhov.
The man who would be first decided he wasn’t going to let the gap grow larger and quickly made the bridge to the leading three.
The next major drama saw last year’s IAAF World champion come off the back of four as Bakulin started to suffer in the 28-degree heat.
When it was Tallent’s turn to struggle, it came down to an eight kilometre duel decided when Kirdyapkin only needed the length of a train carriage to buy a winning ticket.
Unsurprisingly, with three in the first five, Russia topped the team podium again and China took silver spot.
The fast-finishing Tianfeng Si came from near the back to claim his second individual fourth following Daegu and the World Champs, with Faguang Xu in eighth.
The team surprise of the weekend is undoubtedly Ukraine.
Their third bronze in the wake of the same colour medal won by the men’s 20km and junior women’s teams underlined strength in depth.
Christopher Linke from Germany walked a PB for sixth as the German latched on to the Russian leaders at 41km and stayed with them until the last few metres despite being a lap behind when he hitched a ride.
The evergreen Jesus Angel Garcia will be 43 in October, but in his ninth World Cup fought his way through the field in customary punching style to post a stunning 3:48:15 for seventh.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF