Victory and a national record went to the home hero Matej Toth of Slovakia at the 34th Dudinska 50, an IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting on Saturday (21).
The European silver medallist crossed the finish line in a world-leading 3.34:38, the third-fastest time in history, and smashing the meeting record and his own national record in the process. Only world record-holder Yohann Diniz (3:32:33) and Russia’s Denis Nizhegorodov (3:34:14) have ever gone quicker.
At one point it looked as though the 32-year-old was set to attack the world record. His 20km split of 1:26:51 was four seconds quicker than Diniz’s when he broke the record, while his 30km split of 2:09:20 was identical to the Frenchman’s.
But while Toth maintained his pace over the final half, he was unable to match the increase in speed that brought Diniz the record at last year’s European Championships.
Supported by his closest family and dozens of fans around the one-kilometre long circuit, Toth revealed afterwards that he was not thinking about world records today.
“Diniz achieved an unbelievable result; it was like it was from a fairy-tale,” said Toth, who is coached by Matej Spisiak. “The start of the season was as we planned. I do not want to sound too confident but the training indicators were showing us I was in a personal record shape – better than before the European Championships last year. But I did not want to think of any records; I just followed my body and the pace and that worked.”
Toth had won the 20km event in Dudince on six previous occasions, but he had only won the 50km in the Slovakian town once before. He failed to finish in his first two 50km appearances in Dudince, but had set national records on his other two attempts.
Today he fearlessly hit the front within the first few metres. After just two laps, he had built up an 11-second margin over world champion Robert Heffernan and two-time Dudince winner Grzegorz Sudol.
By 10km, reached in 44:00, Toth’s lead had grown to more than one-and-a-half minutes over defending champion Rafal Augustyn and fellow Pole Lukasz Nowak.
After passing 20km in 1:26:51 – a time that would have ultimately been good enough for fifth place in the separate 20km contest – Toth sped up while Sudol dropped out after 21km.
Toth covered the next 10 laps in 42:29 and by 30km his lead over the chasing trio of Heffernan, Nowak and Augustyn had grown to 5:23.
Heffernan began to drift back after 37km, leaving Nowak and Augustyn as Toth’s main pursuers, although by now they were almost six minutes adrift of the Slovakian race walker.
With 10km remaining, having passed 40km in 2:51:46, the world record was now out of sight for Toth, but there was still the possibility of a huge national record.
Augustyn broke clear of Nowak after 42km and the eventual finishing positions soon became clear. Now it was just a question of how fast the top contenders would go.
The spectators didn’t have to wait long to find out. Toth crossed the line in 3:34:38 to improve his personal best by 1:43 and take more than four minutes off Diniz’s meeting record.
A measure of Toth’s dominance is the fact that defending champion Augustyn set a PB of 3:43:55 in second place, covering the course 1:37 faster than he had done last year, yet was lapped twice by the eventual winner.
Nowak held on for third place with 3:44:53, while Heffernan clocked 3:48:44 in fourth, his fastest performance outside of major championships.
In almost ideal weather conditions with temperatures about 14C, the top eight finishers went faster than 3:50 with another four dipping below the four-hour barrier. Seven of the top 10 set lifetime bests.
Giorgi breaks course record
Toth’s performance wasn’t the only record-breaking mark of the competition.
In the women’s 20km, Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi smashed the meeting record by nearly two minutes, breaking her own national record in the process.
The victory didn’t come easy, though. For much of the race she was tracked by European silver medallist Lyudmila Olyanovska as the pair took it in turns to lead.
They passed through 10km in 43:15, which hinted that they were on course for a fast time. It was only after 14km that Giorgi was finally able to shake off her Ukrainian rival.
Giorgi passed 15km in 1:05:11 with Olyanovska now 10 seconds in arrears. The gap between the pair continued to grow and Giorgi eventually crossed the finish line in 1:26:46. Her winning time also took two seconds off the course record set in Dudince at the 2001 European Race Walking Cup.
Olyanovska held on for second place with 1:28:18 with Italy’s Antonella Palmisano just 12 seconds behind in third place, having made up more than a minute on the Ukrainian over the final six kilometres.
In fourth, Brazil’s Erica de Sena set a South American record of 1:29:37. World junior champion and European bronze medallist Aneza Drahotova was a distant fifth in 1:30:22, but the 19-year-old was walking on tired legs, having competed in Lugano just six days prior.
There was more good news for the local crowd further down the field as Maria Galikova set a Slovakian record of 1:31:42 in eighth place.
Fresh from setting a PB of 1:21:50 in Lugano less than a week ago, South Africa’s Lebogang Shange came within a minute of that mark to win the men’s 20km event. The two-time African champion clocked 1:22:44 to finish comfortably ahead of Ecuador’s Andres Chocho (1:23:20).
Zuzana Trojakova for the IAAF