The men’s 50km race walking is an event that has not only fallen from grace but even sunk into an abyss of anonymity as the golden triumphs of Tommy Green (1932), Harry Whitlock (1936) and Don Thompson (1952) in the Olympics feel all but forgotten and ranks are scattered nowadays.
Chris Maddocks was the last walker to represent Britain in the ultimate showpiece back in Sydney 2000 to simply illustrate the plunging fortunes in this quarter through the last age, as does the shortage of marks under four hours since his clocking of 3h57:10 that very year; but that could be about to change…
Driven by the call of the home Olympics, Dominic King walked out of his skin to clock a huge PB of 4h06:34 at the high-profile Dudinska Patdesiatka, Slovakia, on Saturday and earn a solid footing in the Olympic B qualifying territory (4h09) that could hand him a much longed-for spot on the British team for London.
The 28-year-old Colchester Harrier slashed well over 8 minutes off his previous lifetime figure of 4h14:55 from last year in doing so to move up into eighth in the UK all-time lists for good measure. But, funnily enough, his new mark cannot go down even as a family best since twin brother Daniel holds a PB of 4h04:49 from the former leap year.
Nothing can be taken for granted, of course, but with the Olympics held on home soil selectors and fans could feel inclined alike to see Team GB represented in as many events across the Games program as possible, even if King does not suggest medal or top eight material.
By the way, Daniel posted a substantial PB of 71:44 over 10 miles a mere couple of seconds behind his brother at the Lee Valley last month and it will be interesting to see whether he could challenge Dominic’s claim in this matter. At any rate, it’s good to see some light glimmering at the end of the tunnel for the event after some time.
Reigning Olympic champion Alex Schwazer cashed in on a superb sharpener of 1h17:30 to win over 20km in Lugano the previous weekend, a national record and sixth fastest in history, and dominated with aplomb in the teeth of warm conditions into a world-leading mark of 3h40:58, issuing a statement around that he is heading to London fully prepared to defend his title.
The Italian did not fail to admit so in his post-race interview, saying “I was thinking I can go somewhere around 3:45 so I’m even surprised it was so fast. It shows I’m in my best shape ever,” although he should expect a tough proposition from his Russian rivals in particular.
Lukasz Nowak was runner-up well behind in a PB of 3h44:24 and compatriot Rafal Sikora closed out the podium slots in also a PB of 3h46:16 as they endeavour to uphold the vast legacy left to Polish race-walking by great Robert Korzeniowski.
German Andre Hohne was fourth in 3h49:50 and Alexandros Papamichail followed on fifth in a huge PB of 3h55:13, fastest by a Greek race-walker since 1990, while Brendan Boyce as good as secured selection for the Irish Olympic team by way of a second A qualifier on the trot in 3h57:53, a slight PB by five seconds.
European champion Yohan Diniz (FRA) was also due to line up and set up an enthralling encounter with Schwazer on a fabulous national record of 1h17:43 for runner-up in Lugano, tenth fastest ever, but was apparently a late withdrawal.
Incidentally, Tom Bosworth worked his way to a big PB of 1h25:49 for an overall 28th in that same race in Switzerland the previous weekend to draw within shouting distance of the B Olympic standard (1h24:30) for London, providing further evidence of turning fortunes for British race-walking.
The U23 athlete knocked a good 1:29 off his previous best from last year and will need to find at least a further 1:19 off to make a solid case for selection, which looks well capable of. His time was the fastest in two years by a Brit for good measure.
Bosworth’s groupmate Alex Wright got disqualified and Ben Wears pulled a SB of 1h29:52, not far off his PB of 1h29:00, for 36th some way behind.
Guatemala’s Erick Barrondo was third in a hefty national record of 1h18:25 followed in fourth by Ukraine’s Nazar Kovalenko in 1h19:55 to round out four national landmarks out of the top four finishers in a contest of excellent depth.
Tatiana Sibileva (RUS) walked away a convincing winner in the women’s version despite coming considerably shy of her SB in 1h28:03 ahead of Guatemala’s Mirna Ortiz in 1h28:54, doubling the country’s national marks on the day, and third-spotted Elisa Rigaudo (ITA) in 1h29:25.