This time Denis Nizhegorodov did remember the finish.
The Russian punched the air and draped himself in a flag at the end of the 50km to enjoy a win in stark contrast to his haggard features as he limped to Olympic silver in 2004. Then the 25-year-old recovered came round in a medical tent to ask what the result had been.
In La Coruña there was little doubt from just short of 20km when the man with the best ever time broke away from all opposition.
His 3:35:29 in 2004 hasn’t been ratified as a World record, but his time here was the 12th fastest of all time. His only danger was the DQ board as he walked a thin line between gold and gone after registering a second card at 30k. Mercifully, his effort to create a five-minute gap at one point also slowed him down, but not enough to deny him a World Cup record by 1:22.
“I remember Athens very well but also knew I needed to take risks. I was afraid I might damage the team’ chances with a third card, but I did not change my tactics, I wanted to win and I was not going to hide from the judges,” said the winner
Behind him Norwegian Trond Nymark bettered his PB by nearly three minutes to take an unexpected second. It was due reward for a conservative start, backed up by gradual progress after fourth in last year’s World Championships. “I knew I could make the top three, but the first 20km was difficult,” commented a delighted Nymark. “I then took a chance and accelerated. By 20/25km I was on edge, I knew I would either tip over or find my flow and I found my flow. I knew I could do well as the times I’ve achieved during my training have spoken for themselves. This race tells me I can win major events in the future.”
Third went to another Russian, Yuriy Andronov, but world champion Sergey Kirdyapkin was reduced to a painful crawl in a brave but futile attempt to keep his country’s medal chances alive. I did not feel comfortable at the beginning of the race and my form was not perfect but I am satisfied with the results,” commented the bronze medallist. “Sergey Kirdyapkin did a great job, he saved the team. Denis (Nizhegorodov) encouraged Sergey as I did, but in the end I needed help myself.”
The early pace was reasonably comfortable by world standards, which is why a group of 11 were able to motor through 5km without breaking sweat. There was little change at 10km reached in 45:29 for the leaders. However, any thoughts this was a Sunday stroll was dispelled after 19km when Nizhegorodov upped a gear and took only Chaohong Yu along for company.
The other Chinese/Russian pair of Kirdyapin and Chengliang Zhao held off and quickly dropped back 25 seconds.
The group behind them had a slightly more cosmopolitan look with Nymark, and Spaniard Mikel Odrizola mixing it up with another batch of Russians and Chinese.
By the time the Nizhegorodov reached half-way, the jeep carrying the film crew had to move up a gear as well. The average for the five kilometres between 20 and 25 moved down from 4:12 to a telling 4:06.
Five kilometres after that, Nizhegorodov was on his own and shot through 30k in 2:10:13. Yu was 1:16 back and Kanaykin, living dangerously on two red cards, had moved past teammate Kirdyapkin. That all changed 2km later when unwisely Kanaykin went even faster and picked up the dreaded third card. It was the second World Cup in a row the 21-year-old, with a world fastest 30km to his credit, has seen the red disc. Two years ago in Naumburg, he was a street ahead in the junior 10k and fate still prevented him from finishing the race.
Zhao was starting to wane by the time the race entered the final 10km. Not only had the Chinese also seen two cards on the board opposite his name, but Nymark had sped past him as they crossed the start line for the 20th time.
Nizhegorodov went through a bad patch – if it can be called that – when his kilometre average increased by 20 seconds for 4km.
Nobody was going any faster though, but the team race was changing all the time.
Spain eventually reigned for the second day running as Odrizola was backed up by former champion Jesus Angel Garcia and Jose Cambil Alejandro to bring more joy for home spectators. Poland’s silver was also a triumph of tactics over torrid pace as they eased past China by a single point.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF