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Event report: Men’s 50km Race Walk

Four times a Commonwealth champion, now top of the world. Nathan Deakes walked away with the 50km race walk gold on a blistering Osaka morning in the Nagai Park today after putting in a devastating burst between 35 and 40km that killed off the opposition.

After finishing fourth at 20km in 2001, the official world record-holder now joins an exclusive club containing Cathy Freeman and Jana Rawlinson as the only Australian IAAF World champions.

“This is what every athlete dreams of,” he said. “It is a great feeling, records are to be broken, but nobody can take from you away the world champion title.”

Deakes bided his time in the early stages and made his move with 15km of the race to go, destroying the threat from sudden race leader Yohan Diniz of France who took the silver. The Australian, who has been preparing for the World Championships in the Tuscany region of Italy, entered the sun-bleached stadium in glorious isolation with his white cap still tugged tightly over his shaded eyes.

He crossed the line in 3hrs 43mins 53secs, his face streaming with tears. “I had my plan and executed well,” he said. “I will remember forever the feeling when I came into the stadium and it was clear I was the champion. It was quite emotional. I think it was my 10th 50 km, so it’s a great jubilee.”

Deakes was a superb winner, and once he took the lead his victory was never in doubt. But Diniz also had a good race as both produced their fastest times of the year in the kind of heat more suited to barbecues than race walking. Diniz finished in 3:44:22.

“The gold wasn't out of reach but it wasn't for me today,” said Diniz. “But Nathan Deakes was too strong.”

Italy’s Alex Schwazer, the fastest man in the field this year, took the bronze in 3:44:38 after a desperate surge over the last five kilometres that almost brought him silver. For him, the expectations had been high, and another bronze after winning the same colour two years ago was hard to take.

“I am very disappointed,” he said. “Unfortunately my race was not the best one tactically speaking. I started too slowly and then I could not catch up. In these conditions, I wanted to be cautious, but now I know that I was too cautious.”

The temperature was already in the high 20s at shortly after 7am when the walkers left an eerily empty Nagai Stadium after four and a half laps around the track.

Deakes led them out under the long shadows that striped the streets around Nagai Park, although the Spaniard Santiago Perez and China’s Yu Chaohong soon opened an early lead of 14 seconds on a group of nine containing the three eventual medallists plus Yuki Yamazaki of Japan and the 2005 champion Sergey Kirdyapkin.

The leaders stretched their advantage to 23 seconds by 5km (23mins 36secs), but after 36 minutes on the road, Yu put his foot down and strode away from the Spaniard to become the outright leader.

Less than 10 hours after Liu Xiang’s hurdles victory, this was an eye-catching move by the Chinese walker who finished fourth at the Athens Olympics. Two years ago he produced one of the fastest times in history so it was no surprise to see him figure so highly.

At 10km (45:54) he had a 42-second lead on Perez while Kirdyapkin led the nine-man group through, 1:29 behind. By now the defending champion was joined by the youngster in the Russian team, 22-year-old Vladimir Kanaykin, and these two began the chase, hauling in Perez after 14km, and separating themselves plus Deakes and Diniz from the rest of the huddle.

At 15km (1:08:07) Yu increased his lead to 1:41, but Deakes, Kanaykin and, much to the delight of the few early morning spectators, the Japanese record-holder Yamazaki, had reduced the deficit, with Diniz a step or two behind. Kirdyapkin soon went through a bad patch and slipped back as his compatriot began to cut into Yu’s lead, reducing it to 67 seconds. The defending champion would eventually drop out.

Perhaps his early pace was taking its toll. The answer came at 20km (1:31:30) when split times showed Yu’s lead down to 18 seconds. It had been a bold attempt to win China’s second gold in two days, but within another kilometre Yu was swallowed up by Kanaykin, Yamakazi and Deakes. He hung on for a kilometre or so, but as Kamaykin upped the tempo, his bid for glory bit the dust and he was later disqualified shortly after 25km.

Meanwhile, Kanaykin led Deakes and Yamazaki to the half way point in 1:53:35 with Diniz now 14 seconds back and Yu, fading badly, almost a minute behind. A second group containing Schwazer and Kirdyapkin were another 2:14 adrift.

The leaders strode together through 30km in 2:15:39, with Diniz a quarter of a minute behind, but the Frenchman was closing fast and he stomped past the leaders like a late commuter in what can only be described as the race walkers’ equivalent of a flash. It was the fastest km of the race, 4:12, and only Deakes could respond.

The Australian had bided his time and clearly still had plenty in reserve. Slowly he pulled away from Diniz to pass 35km in 2:37:33 with a six-second advantage as Yamazaki moved into third a further 34 seconds back.

By now the heat was taking its toll on the walkers – Latvia’s Igors Kazakevics was stretchered away from the course wrapped in cold towels. Not that it seemed to affect the iron man Deakes who was oblivious to the carnage around him, kicking in kilometres of 4:18, 4:19, 4:16, 4:17, 4:19 and 4:21 to reach 40km in 2:59:05 with a lead of 39 seconds.

Behind Deakes and Diniz, Schwazer caught Yamazaki whose determined effort to bring host nation its first medal of the championships was over.

Deakes maintained his relentless pace slowing slightly in the last 10km, although never more than his challengers. As he approached the stadium Deakes gave a thumbs up sign to Aussie fans at the side of the course. By now he was sure of the gold and the grimmace of pain and sweaty concentration he’d shown for the last 10 kilometres turned into a smile.

He raised another thumb at the crowd as he strode into the arena and by the time he reached the finish line he was already in tears. He put his hands over his face in exhausted joy and wept.

Diniz punched the air, also delighted with his medal, while Schwazer was the absolute opposite. Disgusted with himself he stormed off the track, ripped off his race number and collapsed in the tunnel. His were tears of frustration.

“Maybe I will be able to rejoice in my medal later,” he said, “to appreciate it in the evening.”

“The last 5km were very tough,” said Deakes. “But I was able to manage. Next year at the Olympics I want to try the double. But 50km is always a long way, so we will see.”

Osaka 2007 News Team/mkb