Of the seven starters at the Australian 50km Road Walking Championships in Melbourne on Saturday (12), the aim for most of them was to achieve the Olympic qualifying standard. But a trio of athletes achieved more than that.
Winner Evan Dunfee smashed the Canadian record by more than three minutes, clocking 3:43:45. Second-place finisher Chris Erickson bagged another national title. And Marc Mundell in third broke his own African record.
Held on a two-kilometre loop in Fawkner Park, the race got underway with a steady start. World 20km bronze medallist Ben Thorne was treating the race as a training exercise and built up a significant early lead before withdrawing after eight laps.
At 10km, Dunfee was already two minutes ahead of a chasing pack which comprised defending champion Erickson, Pan American Games silver medallist Inaki Gomez of Canada, Australia’s Ian Rayson and South African Olympian Mundell.
The Pan American champion continued to churn out the sub-nine-minute laps and he reached 20km in just a shade outside 90 minutes with a lead of more than four minutes.
Having covered the first half in 1:52:18, Dunfee knew with 25km left that he was on course to break the Canadian record of 3:47:48 that had stood to Marcel Jobin since 1981, nine years before Dunfee was born.
Dunfee maintained his pace in the second half, while Gomez, Mundell and Erickson were still level at half way, followed closely by Rayson. But that chase pack began to break up just before 30km as Erickson sped up, leaving behind Gomez and Mundell.
With less than a third of the race remaining, Dunfee was getting quicker. So too was Erickson, although he was more than six minutes adrift of the leader, but Gomez – making his debut over the distance – had drifted from third to fifth.
Dunfee went through the 40km checkpoint comfortably inside three hours and he kept up the swift pace to the end, winning in 3:43:45, the seventh-fastest time in the world this year.
As well as smashing the Canadian record and easily achieving the Canadian federation’s 3:54:20 qualifying standard for Rio, the 25-year-old took more than six minutes off the PB he set when finishing 12th at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
“Last month in Australia here I’ve been training in a supernova study down in Canberra,” said Dunfee, who finished second in this race last year in what was then a PB of 3:58:34. “I’m in really good shape, so I knew I was ready for a big one. I wasn’t sure whether it would be a hard or fast race really, so I didn’t really make my decision until about 3km into the race and I thought I’d go for it.
“I’m really happy with it and it felt really good. I think there’s a bit more in the tank there when push comes to shove. I’ve taken 14 minutes off my PB this year; another 14 minutes and we’re good!
“This course is so easy to walk on, it’s by far my favourite course,” he added. “It makes it so much easier to get into a rhythm and keep it.”
When asked which distance is his favourite, Dunfee – who finished 12th in both events in Beijing – suggested that he’ll continue to divide his time between the 20km and 50km.
“Jared (Tallent) has proved that you can do both,” he said. “I like both, they’re different challenges. After losing my 20km record to Ben in Beijing, I wanted a bit of redemption. I wanted to get the 50km record in Beijing but I sort of blew up at 42km. So I came in here and smashed it and it felt great. I’m happy to get one Canadian record back.”
Erickson – who finished one place behind Dunfee in the 50km in Beijing earlier this year – successfully defended his national title with a time of 3:54:10, booking his spot on what will be his third Olympic team. Mundell was close behind in third place in 3:54:12, breaking the African record he set at the London 2012 Olympics.
Brendon Reading, who is coached by Erickson, finished well to place fourth in 3:55:03, putting him in a good position to earn Olympic selection. Rayson was 14 seconds adrift in fifth, while Gomez held on to complete his first 50km in 4:04:12.
Although other distances were contested in Melbourne, the men’s 50km was the only national championship and Olympic trial event.
New Zealand record-holder Quentin Rew won the men’s 20km in 1:22:58 while Australia’s Regan Lamble won the women’s event in 1:30:45.
Junior 10km winners Tyler Jones (42:48) and Zoe Hunt (47:41) both crossed the line inside the qualifying standards for the 2016 IAAF World Junior Championships.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF