Matej Toth of Slovakia wins the 50km race walk in Chihuahua, Mexico (Getty Images) © Copyright

Surprise winner Toth spoils Mexican Party – Men’s 50km Race Report

It was appropriate the winner of the 50km was wearing blue - because Matej Toth came out of the blue to win the first event of the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in searing conditions.

Slovakia’s first ever medallist - never mind winner - didn’t hit the front until the last kilometre of a race in which the man whose face adorns every street corner in Chihuahua had led for all but the first 10km.

Horacio Nava is the one member of his team to come from the host city, and cheered on by fans with banners, hooters and drums, he nearly rescued his bid for gold at 40km.

Long-time leader Horacio Nava holds on to silver

Having led for all but 10km, Nava was caught by pre-race favourite Jared Tallent of Australia, and at that point a long-time leader in this race normally falls apart.

Not Nava.

He looked once to his right and then gradually re-opened a gap step-by-step to leave Tallent looking pale and spent.

But it was the Mexican who looked aghast as Toth went into overdrive to come from as far back as 10th to gradually knock off the opposition and record a shattering 21:44 for the final 5km.

In this heat, that was all but needed for the 27-year-old to spring a massive surprise despite the slowest winning time in the competition since 1993 when the event was last held in Mexico.

Nava clearly ignored his own advice at yesterday’s press conference where he warned that those who went solo would suffer. Silver is hardly eating your own words - but a little reserve might have made a whole heap of difference.

Nava goes solo for nearly 40km

The solitary Mexican had more than a minute’s lead at one point, but it’s funny what massive support does to carefully laid plans.
And it was a sign of the conditions that when walkers came past the main stand each 2km lap, they hugged the tiny ribbon of shade it afforded as the temperature soared.
There’s always one that doesn’t heed the warning signs, and in this case it was Luis Fernando Garcia of Guatemala who went to the front at 5km.

Even then the pace was a modest 4:00:00 for the whole trip, although the rest, which at the early stages constituted two groups of five, hung back by 10 seconds or more.

Garcia was allowed to hang on to his tenuous lead until just past the 12km mark when Nava took the lead and opened up a real gap.

The big surprise was the sight of Jesus Angel Garcia up amongst the eight followers so early in the race. The 40-year-old Spaniard’s trademark is a late charge that mostly garners him a top-four finish.

But this time he, Tallent and Australian team-mates Luke Adams and Chris Erickson, together with Nava’s compatriot Cristian Berdeja and a surprise package in Emerson Hernandez from El Salvador were the only ones in sight of the hometown boy.

The pace was barely much quicker at 20km which Nava crossed in 1:34:39. Rarely have so many top athletes gone so slowly in a top race.

Most of the top 20 train at this pace, but the horror stories of heat and hurt had clearly made their mark with the leader 35 seconds up on the following four.

Nava had nearly a minute on the Spanish Garcia and the two Australians, although a pack some 1:24 behind involving a teams-worth of Chinese and Russians had started to make ground on those ahead.

But the Mexican had clearly got the bit between his teeth - although there appeared to be a permanent bulge in his left cheek, probably some supplement to aide his strike for glory.

If anyone knew the course before the event it was Nava. After all, he had trained on it most of the winter in between training camps with the national team, and spurred on by his countryman around the unusually-shaped 2km loop he had stretched the lead to almost a minute by half-way.

But as anyone familiar with this gruelling event knows, the race doesn’t often start until 30km.

Bronze medallist Jared Tallent recovers from stomach problems

By this point the immediate chasers behind Nava (2:20:25) were going solo.

A rush of blood to Berdeja’s head saw him take 30 seconds out of Tallent inside three minutes, with Garcia, the speeding Chinese, Marco de Luca from Italy and Japan’s Yuki Yamazaki all sweeping past the tiring Adams and Erickson.

It was then that Tallent stopped just in front of the dignitaries to show them what he had for breakfast, and probably the night before judging by his convulsions.

Having pulled himself together and got back to the front, it looked as if all the smart money would be returned - but Nava thought he had other ideas until Toth showed that Latin familiarity with the sun isn’t everything when you’re in this kind of form.

In the team standings, Mexicans also had to be content with silver missing out on the title by just 1 point as a trio of Chinese finishing strongly all packed in the top nine. In bronze, Russia and Spain both totalled 38 points but the medal will be awarded to the Eastern Europeans their last scorer coming in 16th, 6 places ahead of the third scoring Spaniard.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF