The odds on Jefferson Perez reclaiming the Olympic crown he last won in 1996 shortened after his superb display through the streets of Naumburg.
The Ecuadorean’s timing was Swiss in its efficiency as he upped the pace at the right times, and left no-one in doubt who would be in pole position on the start line in Athens.
Even the normally self-effacing walker was confident of a summer spree.
He said: “At the world Championships in 1997, I had a bad result when I came 14th. This time I will be much better and win the gold medal. It’s not by chance I’ve got to this position.”
His third World Walking Cup title was the most decisive as he lost all challengers by the final 2 kilometres, although 50km Olympic favourite Robert Korzeniowski finished a gritty second. A massive effort by Nathan Deakes saw the Australian on the podium in a major walk for the first time.
There wasn’t the thickness of a vest between the first 50 as they flew passed the first lap in 10:02. All the main contenders were showing including the defending champion and former World champion Ivano Brugnetti who was heading affairs.
One person expected to show at the front hadn’t even started. The unexpected absence of German champion Andreas Erm was a disappointment to home fans, but by 5km in a nippy 20:04, the group was already shedding walkers at a rate of knots.
The pack was down to 19, although there was a bunch of eight who were nine seconds back.
Third time around the lead group comprised a sprinkling of nationalities including all the Russian and Chinese entry, two Italians, a Spaniard, and Deakes.
However, by half-way in 39:54, three were off the back including Irish hope Robbie Heffernan.
For the first time Perez took a turn at the front although he was swapping the lead with Deakes and Korzeniowski. The hot pace on a much cooler day than Saturday then lost Marco Giungi and left Brugnetti no team-mate to help with the relentless charge.
The speed of the potentials was underlined by the increasing lap pace – now comfortably under 10 minutes. Whoever was going to be in the shake-up would come from the remaining nine. If facial expressions were a guide, Brugnetti in shades, was looking the most composed.
Juan Molina from Spain also refused to buckle, but then the sixth lap was faster still.
Almost immediately the Spaniard and Brugnetti slid off the shoulders of the remaining five of Korzeniowski, Ilya Markov, Deakes, Perez, and Yucheng Han, who had walked sensational times for 50km and 20km in China a month earlier.
On the last lap, Markov and Han were forced to let go and Deakes lost five seconds as well.
Slowly but inevitably, Perez’s speed told. Gritting his teeth for the first time he went into overdrive.
In doing so he made sure there would be no last mad sprint, and unlike the IAAF Grand Prix in Tijuana in February, had a considerably bigger margin than eight seconds at the end.
The big improvement was Deakes who closed the gap to second by five seconds, but Korzeniowski had the advantage of a final turn and a backward glance to raise his effort for the last time.
The team went to China. Along with Russia, the countries’ national anthem was played at all the weekend’s presentation ceremonies bar one.
Such is the influence Perez has at home, Ecuador now has enough walkers to inch into second team place on count-back from Italy.
Perez said: “It’s the first time I will have another two countrymen alongside me, and I’m delighted.”
Korzeniowski threw down a challenge to the winner.
He said: “Maybe after Athens Olympics Jefferson would like to join me in the 50km, and replace me in history.”
Deakes hailed his comeback after surgery exactly a year ago.
He said: “To win a first major medal after two years out is fantastic.”