Alex Schwazer begins to break away from the leading pack during the men's 50km walk (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Men's 50km Race Walk

It was Schwazer at the start and Schwazer at the end as Italy's Alex Schwazer claimed gold in Olympic Record time after a grueling 50km Race Walk in Beijing's Olympic Park.

Schwazer, twice bronze in this event at the World Championships (in 2005 and 2007) and the third finisher at this summer's IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Cheboksary, took the early lead along with France's Yohan Diniz, the silver medallist last summer in Osaka. The pair led for 5km (22:40) before being overtaken at around 30 minutes by a pack led by Russian Denis Nizhegorodov and Australian Jared Tallent.

The lead pack then included Schwazer and Diniz, Nizhegorodov and Tallent, Jianbo Li of China, Adam Rutter of Austalia, and Yamazaki of Japan. Nizhegorodov took over the pace at that point, pressing the pace and dropping first Rutter, then Yamazaki and finally Diniz to reduce the pack to four.

This four would walk in the lead from 15km (1:06:07) to 40km, passing halfway (25km) in 1:49:00, well off pace to challenge Nizhegorodov's World record of 3:34:14 (set in Cheboksary in May) but close to Olympic record pace. They shared the lead, soaked up penalties (Schwazer was warned for a loss of contact, Tallent for bent knee, and Nizhegorodov for both, at various points in the race) and put distance on their pursuers.

Diniz, the last one dropped, was the first to crack. Suffering from stomach difficulties and cramps, he would occasionally stop, then resume walking. Finally he hopped the fence separating the spectators from the walkers, shortly after being passed by Grzegorz Sudol of Poland and Yamazaki. "The rhythm was very fast," he said. "I controlled myself until the 27th or 29th kilometre mark. Then I got a stomach pain and a hamstring strain. I just cracked mentally and physically."

Shortly before the 40km mark (reached in 2:54:36), the pack dropped Li. A lap later, Schwazer made his second bid for the win, this one somewhat more serious than the first. As he forced the pace, Tallent was the first dropped, then Nizhegorodov lost his grip on the determined Italian. Within another lap, Schwazer could see he had the race won, and as he passed his supporters on the course, he raised his right arm and flexed: "I feel strong."

His lead continued to expand until he reached the finish in a new Olympic Record of 3:37:09. The old record was 3:38:29 by Vyacheslav Ivanenko, set in 1988 in Seoul. Schwazer was weeping with joy when he crossed the line.

"I didn't want anything but the gold," he explained. "Last year I was disappointed because I was told to calm my expectations down and only go for the bronze when I should go for the gold."

"I was very relaxed for the first three hours. I was just waiting for the finish. I wanted to win so badly I had to stop myself from running."

"You only saw the race," he continued. "To win you have to work all year, and this year was excellent."

Behind him, Tallent, the 20km bronze medalist earlier in the week, re-caught and passed the flagging Nizhegorodov and strode in to the stadium for silver in a PB 3:39:27. Nizhegorodov held on for bronze in 3:40:14.

"It was amazing coming in to the stadium," said Tallent. The Bird's Nest was remarkably full with 91,000 spectators for a sparse morning programme including three decathlon events. "I heard a huge roar from the crowd. "

Nizhegorodov, the World Record holder in this event, was less pleased. "I feel very disappointed," he said. "I don't know why. I don't think I had any technical problems or mistakes. It's such a pity."

47 walkers finished the full distance, with five more disqualified and seven dropping out in the course of the race.

Parker Morse for the IAAF