Matej Toth of Slovakia overhauled reigning champion Jared Tallent of Australia with a perfectly timed surge on the final circuit of the Rio road track to add the 50km walk title to the world crown he won in 2015.
The 33-year-old Toth blew kisses to the crowd as he completed the final kilometre of the gruelling test of endurance, eventually crossing the line in 3:40.58 to win his first medal at his fourth Games. “It’s something unbelievable for me,” said the Slovakian, who also pushed Tallent into second place at last year’s Beijing world championships.
“I’m so proud,” he continued. “So happy. It’s a great feeling. There was a great atmosphere, a lot of people, so I just pushed and it was from all my body, my heart, my brain, my head.” Referring to the energy-sapping heat, the new champion added: “Today was very tough. Compared with Beijing last year, which was one of the easiest 50km races, this was one of the hardest. It was very tough. It was very warm.”
Tallent had led for much of the final 10 kilometres, but was reeled in by the relentless Toth and came in 18 seconds adrift. Finishing third behind him, a further six seconds back, was Japan’s Hirooki Arai, though he was later disqualified following a collision with Canada’s Evan Dunfee, who was awarded the bronze after finishing fourth in a time of 3:41.38.
Giving his view on Toth’s ultimately successful pursuit, the Australian said: “About 4km to go he was gaining on me. I was pushing as hard as I can, but every time I went around the turn he was closer. I was trying to give it everything and just trying to hold on. But he came past really strongly on that last lap and I had nothing to respond with.”
Nevertheless delighted with his efforts, the 31-year-old Tallent, who also won a 20km race walk bronze at Beijing 2008, said: “50km: three Olympics in a row, three Olympic medals, so I’m pretty stoked. Two silvers and a gold now. It’s a bit of history. It’s something I’m very proud of. Hopefully I can come back in four years’ time and get another gold medal. I’ll aim for that. But I gave it everything today and I’m really happy.”
World-record holder Yohann Diniz of France dominated the early part of the race, setting off at a terrific pace to hold a lead of one minute 40 seconds at the halfway mark. Having passed the 38-kilometre mark, however, the Frenchman was forced to stop, eventually taking a seat on the tarmac to recover his breath before bravely resuming and coming in a remarkable fifth.
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