Cold and windy weather in the Slovak spa city of Dudince welcomed the race walkers at the 35th edition of the Dudinska 50, an IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting, on Saturday (19).
The honours in the blue riband 50km event went, for the third time, to Poland’s Rafal Augustyn, following his wins in 2010 and 2014.
Mexico's Pan American Games bronze medallist Horacio Nava took the front position from the first kilometre, initially working in cooperation with Serbia’s Vladimir Savanovic.
The 34-year-old forged ahead with the aim of improving his best of 3:42:51, and was in front until the 42nd kilometre as Guatemala’s Erik Barrondo and the Polish duo of Augustyn and Grzegorz Sudol led the chasers.
After passing 20km in 1:29:24, the gap between leading Nava, with Savanovic on his heels, and the rest of the field was less than a minute.
Savanovic then soon started to lose contact and threw in the towel shortly after 20km. 2010 European silver medallist Sudol did likewise just after 30km.
Augustyn then passed and pulled away from Barrrondo – who also later dropped out – the Pole moving up to second in the 34th kilometre before he overhauled Nava eight kilometres from the line.
Having finished second behind Slovakia’s world champion Matej Toth 12 months ago in what was then a personal best of 3:43:55, Augustyn improved his best by 33 seconds to 3:43:22 for a record third win in this event.
Augustyn acheives ambition
He also won the Polish title for the fourth time and secured his spot on their team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“I am very proud to win this event for the third time because it was very important due to the Olympic qualification today," said Augustyn. "It is a difficult course with so many curves. I know it is the same for everyone but I started to feel my knee after so many turns. With this distance and with so many racers on the track you never know what is going on. I hope to come back next year because everyone loves it here."
Second place went surprisingly to Finland's Alexi Ojala, who showed good tactical sense and came through strongly over the last 10 kilometres, although he was more than three minutes in arrears of Augustyn. He improved his best by more than 10 minutes to 3:46:25.
“It was better than I have ever dreamed,” said Ojala. “It was the best race of my life today. The weather was great for me, not too warm, 10 degrees, and I was happy. My main goal this season was to qualify for Rio, and I did it.”
Poland's Adrian Blocki clocked 3:47:16 to take third place. Exhausted, Nava finally came home fifth in 3:47:44. Brazilian 20km record-holder Caio Bonfim, who was sixth over the shorter championship distance at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, was a disappointing 35th in 4:10:04.
In spite of the windy conditions, the top eight finishers went faster than 3:50:00 with another 23 dipping below the four-hour barrier.
Toth, the defending champion and the gold medallist from Beijing, did not start for the first time since 2005 due to a slight leg injury but he was watching in the crowd and commentating.
“It is a strange feeling to just watch," said Toth. "I felt nervous before the start just like the competitors. But I hope I will come back next year in great shape to fight for my third title."
Bosworth breaks 28-year-old British record
The men's 20km race kicked off with Sweden’s Ato Ibanez leading the field in the first four kilometres before Britain’s Tom Bosworth took the lead.
Bosworth, attacking the British record, went through halfway in 39:58 with Ibanez 12 seconds behind.
The 26-year-old Briton then proceeded to keep everyone else at arms’ length before setting a British record of 1:20:41, smashing the previous best of 1:22:03 set back in 1988, two years before Bosworth was born.
Italy’s Matteo Giupponi achieved a lifetime best of 1:20:52 in second with Ibanez also going faster than ever before when coming home two seconds later.
Eleonora Giorgi of Italy retained her 20km title from last year, but she was almost two minutes slower than the personal best she set when winning in 2015, clocking 1:28:05.
Fourth in last year’s race, Brazil’s Erica de Sena improved her South American record to 1:28:22 for second place while Portugal’s Ana Cabecinha, fourth in Beijing, was third in 1:29:11.
Among the junior men, nine of 10 competitors improved their personal bests over the 10km distance with the winner Callum Wilkinson of Great Britain clocking 41:36.
Germany's 17-year-old Teresa Zurek was the fastest among junior women, achieving a 10km personal best of 47:25.
Zuzana Trojakova for the IAAF