Apart from the Olympic gold medal which he won in the 50km Race Walk there could hardly have been a more valueable honour than this one for Italy’s Alex Schwazer.
Multiple World and Olympic champion Robert Korzeniowski after watching his successor winning the gold and answering questions in the press conference afterwards, was so impressed by the young winner from South Tyrol that he stated:
“Seeing him I feel as if my smaller brother has now taken over,” said the Pole, who re-wrote Olympic history in race walking during his career. Korzeniowski had taken the 50 k gold for a third time in a row in Athens in 2004. Additionally he had won the 20km in Sydney 2000.
In warm weather conditions in Beijing with temperatures climbing from 19 to 28° Celsius and humidity decreasing from 97 to 57 percent during the race Alex Schwazer seemed in full control throughout the race and at the end had even achieved something, which Korzeniowski never posessed: he improved the 20-year-old Olympic record from Vyacheslav Ivanenko (3:38:29) to 3:37:09.
After passing half way in 1:49:00 in a group of four athletes he walked away from his rivals soon after the 40k point. With a comfortable lead Alex Schwazer won ahead of Jared Tallent (Australia/3:39:27) and Denis Nizhegorodov (Russia/3:40:14).
During the press conference Robert Korzeniowski was curious to know about a silver wrist band worn by the new Olympic champion. He got an appropriate reply, which made Korzeniowski even more convinced that the young Italian has the abilities to dominate race walking for a long period.
“You were a great athlete yourself. You will know about this – it is about belief,” answered Schwazer, who is only 23-years-old and was born on Boxing Day. Back in 2005 he had told Korzeniowski that he was his idol.
“All that he says here reminds me of myself. Alex has a very positive attitude, which is very important in this sport. If he does not get any problems, stays healthy and can handle the media an PR attention which he will now get than he will continue to be very strong,” said Korzeniowski.
Already at the age of 20, Alex Schwazer had won a bronze medal at the World Championships in the 50km race. He again took third place a year ago in Osaka, but was frustrated about this result.
“Tactically I made a big mistake,” he said.
He had started his move to catch the leaders too late. After that he was so determined to make up for this at the Olympics that he could barely wait for the start of his race.
“My goal was to win today. When I came here I was in good form, I had no problems,” he said. “Of course it is very hard to train for a 50km race. You have to push yourself to a maximum, but I got used to it. The decisive thing is that you are always happy with what you are doing. I like working with the people involved in my training. We get on very well with each other and there is a lot of support,” says Schwazer.
Schwazer is coached by famous Italian walking coach Sandro Damilano, who has coached in Race Walking for 36 years and has guided athletes to 44 medals at major championships (European and World Championships as well as Olympics). He had coached his younger brother when Maurizio Damilano won the Olympic 20km race in Moscow back in 1980.
In the build-up to the Olympics, Schwazer has spent between six and seven months at the training camp in Saluzzo north or Torino (known as the ‘University of Walking’ in Italy).
“Alex has been doing up to 280 kilometres of training in peak weeks. We also went to high altitude to Livigno for 25 days, where he trained at 1870 metres to prepare for Beijing,” says Sandro Damilano. “For me it was no surprise that Alex took the gold today.”
“My coach plays a very important role, because I am still very young and he has got a lot of experience. Sometimes I want to do too much training. Then he guides me and says relax a bit”, says Schwazer.
He competes for a military club in Bologna, but comes from Sterzing, which is a skiing village in the Alpes near to the Dolomites. The Austrian border is very close as well and since this is South Tyrol, Schwazer fluently speaks German. While he also played ice hockey his first serious sport was cycling. The problem was however that as in race walking Alex Schwazer always wanted to take the lead. That did not work in cycling and Schwazer was removed from the team. He then turned to athletics. The individual sport suited him better.
Wearing a black ribbon on his west in Beijing Alex Schwazer explained that his grandfather had died some weeks ago and that he dedicated his gold medal to him.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF