Aleksandr Ivanov in the 20km Race Walk at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Moscow, Russia

Inspired Ivanov continues Russa's race walking tradition

Aleksandr Ivanov, barely out of his teens, won a totally unexpected gold medal in front of an enthusiastic local crowd in and around the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

He was unheralded even to the big crowd of Russian journalists who gathered in the mixed zone anxiously waiting to get the first quotes from their new race walking hero, the fourth Russian to win the event at the IAAF World Championships.

Despite the growing collection of medals which includes the 2012 world junior 10,000m race walk silver medal and the European under-23 20km silver last month, Ivanov was regarded to be just making up the numbers. Andrey Ruzavin was considered by Russian pundits as the best hope for a medal on the eve of the championships.

“It was a big surprise even for me," said Ivanov. "I am just 20, but I was not afraid of anybody, not even of the Olympic champion Chen Ding who finished second today. When (Guatemala’s Olympic silver medallist Erick) Barrondo was disqualified, I was not afraid at all."

Ivanov, the youngest man to win a race walking title at the World Championships, admitted not long after he had crossed the line that he thought it would take a while for his achievement to sink in, after his first win in any race since January 2012.

“I haven’t realised yet that I am the world champion. I am still young. My main aim is Rio 2016. There is a generation change in our race walking team and I think that we, the young ones, represented our country well.”

Ivanov's success will have certainly have been a big boost to Russian race walking morale after they failed to get a man on the podium in the 20km event at last summer's Olympic Games, a race which saw 2011 world champion Valeriy Borchin dramatically collapse on the last lap.

Ivanov hails from the famous walking school in Saransk in the Republic of Mordovia.

“I enjoy great training conditions and a great support in Saransk. When we talked for the first time, we set our long-term goal to peak for the Olympic Games in Rio. This win did not come by chance. It’s part of a plan.”  

After crossing the finish in 1:20.58, the only man in the entire race to set a personal best in the sweltering late afternoon conditions which saw the temperatures rise to 29 degrees Celsius, Ivanov celebrated his fresh gold medal by waving the Russian flag during an emotional lap of honour with Spanish bronze medallist Miguel Angel Lopez.

However, surprisingly, his parents were not in the stadium to witness their son’s win because he did not want to invite them.

“My parents wanted to come but I did not want them to attend my race because I would have felt too nervous,” he joked.

“The beginning of the race was particularly tough but I kept telling myself: ‘Keep going, keep going’. I saw when Barrondo was disqualified (at 18km as he took the lead), he was ahead of me but I had a feeling that I shouldn’t try to chase him. This feeling was right," admitted Ivanov.

The world title was probably the first step for future success and he is determined not to rest on his laurels. “I want to keep training hard and do whatever it takes to defend my country.”

The race was contested along a fascinating course outside the Luzhniki Stadium. “But I did not have time to contemplate the beautiful sight of the course," he said. "However, I want to thank the organisers for the excellent job. Everything was perfectly organised. I want to say thank you as well to the fans who supported me along the course. There were both Russian and Ukrainian supporters, who never stopped supporting us."

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF