The new World recordholder** didn’t look as if he had worked that hard to not only retain the World Walking Cup 50km title at the 23rd IAAF World Race Walking Cup - but rewrite the record books.
Maybe, it never looks that way when you’re in the shape Denis Nizhegorodov is clearly in.
His super-human effort still allowed him to smile, and pose for the cameras seconds after he crossed the finish line and chat effortlessly to waiting reporters as if he was awaiting a train.
The Russian express already had the unofficial best time for the distance when he walked the same Cheboksary course in 2004. This time the 27-year-old made sure there would be no doubt who the best in the world was with a devastating turn of pace to nullify the late threat of Vladimir Kanaykin, and the existing World record of Nathan Deakes of Australia (3:35:47).
It takes mental steel reinforced with iron thread to see your long-held lead wiped out in the space of a lap, and then re-group to not only hang on, but storm away and regain the lead.
But that’s exactly what happened between 42k and 44k.
Kanaykin closed the 100 metre gap separating himself from Nizhegorodov, and for half-a-lap the younger Russian was a few metres clear.
There was even a moment when Nizhegorodov’s head dropped, and there were some around the picturesque waterside 2k loop predicting the race was over there and then.
But the Olympic silver medallist from Athens four years ago dug into his reserves and latched on to Kanaykin’s back. And less than a lap later stormed past to record the fastest circuit of the race – an incredible 8:19 after 46k of walking!
There was no way back for Kanaykin and he knew silver and a PB would have to do for the day.
But up front Nizhegorodov hammered the last circuit to come home to a scintillating mark of 3:34:14 that bettered Deakes’ record by a fabulous 1:33.
Russian team victory had been assured from way back in a race that started with a comparatively pedestrian 9:00 for the first circuit.
Sergey Kirdyapkin closed in seventh, but there were three great walks ahead of the Russian including a gutsy walk for the bronze from Alex Schwazer.
The Italian had set off with Spaniard Mikel Odriozola from the 8am start at close to 3:40:00 pace, with the rest of the field happy to see the pair take a 100 metre lead.
But it didn’t last long.
Once the Russian phalanx of four workers started to work, they quickly closed the gap and started to lay down a marker by 10k reached in 44:47.
Nizhegorodov was showing at the front for the first time alongside Kirdyapkin, Kanaykin, Schwazer and debutant for the distance, Igor Yerokhin.
The latter was happy to partner Kanaykin once Nizhegorodov, Kirdyapkin and the Italian had upped the gears to go through 15k in 66:22.
But once the new World record holder** had gone through 20k (1:27:40) four seconds ahead, he was to hold what seemed like an unassailable lead.
When Kanaykin threatened it became a duel in the sun, with the World record holder at 20k first to blink as Nizhegorodov shot from the hip – literally – and moved away to an historic finish in front of his adoring countryman.
So, World record**, World Cup title, team gold and $80,000 dollars – $50k for the record, $30k for first – was a Sunday morning (11 May) the winner is never going to forget.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF
**subject to ratification
Previous World record - 3:35:47 Nathan Deakes AUS, Geelong, AUS, 02 Dec 06