SAPPORO, JAPAN — Canada’s Evan Dunfee surged the final metres of the Olympic men’s 50-kilometre race walk to claim a bronze medal Friday.
The 30-year-old from Richmond, B.C., reached the podium in a race of attrition amid the heat and humidity of Sapporo.
The temperature for the 5:30 a.m. start was 25 C with over 70 per cent humidity. When Dunfee crossed the line, it felt like 32 C.
Poland’s Dawid Tomala captured gold in three hours 50 minutes eight seconds, ahead of Germany’s Jonathan Hilbert in 3:50:44.
Dunfee caught Spain’s Marc Tur over the final strides and threw his arms in the air at the finish line in 3:50:59.
Dunfee was among the last men to earn medals in the Olympic 50k walk.
The International Olympic Committee will remove the event from the Summer Games program for gender balance. There isn’t a women’s 50k race walk. Men and women both compete in 20k.
Dunfee knew how to manage heat over 25 laps of the two-kilometre course. He endured sweltering conditions at the 2019 world championship in Doha, Qatar, to win bronze.
Guillaume LeBlanc is Canada’s only other race walk medallist with a 20k silver in Barcelona in 1992.
Dunfee finished fourth in 50k, and was briefly in bronze-medal position, in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Hirooki Arai of Japan was disqualified for bumping Dunfee before Arai was reinstated to the bronze medal upon appeal.
Tokyo’s organizing committee decided in 2019 to move the marathons and race walks form Tokyo to Sapporo in Japan’s northernmost prefecture in pursuit of cooler temperatures for the athletes.
Heat and humidity combined to push the temperature to 35 degrees three hours into Friday’s race at Odori Park, however.
China’s Yadong Luo took an early lead off the start line with French world-record holder Yohann Diniz giving chase. Dunfee followed in a chase pack wearing a wet towel around in his neck.
He waved and gave the thumbs up to television cameras at the 3k mark before settling in for a steamy morning alongside 59 other athletes.
Diniz dropped to the rear of the field in physical distress during the first 10 kilometres. The 43-year-old Frenchman worked his way back to join Dunfee’s group that reeled Luo in by the halfway mark.
Diniz faded again, however, and was among 10 men who dropped out. Dunfee remained in a dwindling chase pack as Tomala increased his lead to three minutes by 40k.
The Canadian appeared to lose steam with four kilometres to go, but dug into his reserves for a final push.
Mathieu Bilodeau of Quebec City finished 45th.
The race walk on Sapporo’s streets afforded the public the chance to see an Olympic event in person.
When Tokyo entered a state of emergency July 12 because of rising cases of COVID-19, Japanese spectators were barred from most venues.
Race walkers must maintain contact with the ground at all times.
The lead leg must be straight when the foot makes contact with the ground and remain straight as the leg moves under the body.
Judges issue warning cards for infractions. If an athlete is warned three times by three different judges, that race walker is shown the red paddle and disqualified.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021.