(The walks are being covered by our favorite 50k former Olympian, Elliot Denman. He is our expert on the walks...)
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
BEIJING – The spirit of Giuseppe Dordoni and Abdon Pamich
Thanks to the gutsy performance of Alex Schwazer, the newly crowned Olympic 50-
kilometer racewalking champion, the memories of Dordoni winning the 50K at Helsinki in 1952 and Pamich leading the way at Tokyo in 1964, are alive in some veteran Games-goers memory books all over again.
You can’t compare eras. Racewalking now isn’t what it used to be. Styles, techniques, the whole judging process and most importantly the speed of it all has changed dramatically.
Dordoni outwalked Czechoslovakia's Josef Dolezal at Helsinki in 1952 in 4:28:07. Pamich edged Britain's Paul Nihill at Tokyo in 1964 in 4:11:12.
Now such times do not even qualify to enter the race.
But the parallels are clear – Dordoni and Pamich did it for the greater glory of Italy, and now Schwazer has done it, too.
With win No. 3, Italy joins Poland (all three by Robert Korzeniowski); Germany, East and West (Christoph Hohne, Bernd Kannenberg and Hartwig Gauder), and Great Britain (Tommy Green, Harold Whitlock and Don Thompson) as a triple 50K champion nation. All this in the 17th renewal of the Olympic 50K (born as an Olympic event in 1932) on the 100th anniversary of racewalking’s existence as an Olympic event (the 1908 Games included 3500-meter and 10-mile events.)
And now, flash forward, to the incredible “Bird’s Nest Stadium, “ and the eighth day of action at the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, and Schwazer’s decisive triumph.
He is certain to get a world-class reception when he returns to his hometown village of Vipiteno, Italy, in the north of his nation, some 20 kilometers from the Austrian border.
He will deserve all of the honors – and fiscal rewards – heaped on him. He earned them the hard way, winning the gold medal in the longest of all footracing events in the Games, and in Olympic record time.
It took him three hours, 37 minutes and nine seconds - better than eig ht miles an hour pace.
He sped around a 2,000-meter loop set up outside the “Bird’s Nest,” 24 times, and then headed back into the stadium to hear 91,000 voices of approval.
The loop was carpeted in Mondo-brand rubberized surfacing, rolled out at great expense to ease the burden on the 50K men’s feet. Blisters were kept to a minimum as the walkers, 61 of them gathered from 33 nations and all six continents, set a sizzling pace on a sizzling day.
Schwazer, 23, a member of Italy’s Carabinieri, is a former ice hockey player who was spotted by the racewalking talent scouts at age 15 and quickly recruited into his nation’s team.
He performed like a grizzled veteran in the biggest race of his life,
distancing himself from principal rivals Jared Tallent of Australia (second in 3:39:27) and Denis Nizhegorodov of Russia (third in 3:40.14) in the final five kilometers and won it
going away. Among other things, he lived up to the 50K event’s reputation as a survival of the fittest.
He called his 50K journey “the usual suffering.”
But there was joy in pain as he gradually moved through the pack, going 10K in 44:40, 20K in 1:27:30, 30K in 2:10:39, and 40K in 2:54:36.
Still, he was just dead-even at this stage, to Aussie Tallent, who’d already walked off with the bronze in the 20K six days earlier, and Russian Nizhegorodov, who’d set the World Record of 3:34.14 in his backyard town of Cheboksary, Russia, at the World Cup in May.
Gone, though, was Yohan Diniz of France, who’d been in and out of the lead for much of the early going. Cramped and fatigued, he had no choice but to bail out.
The champion saved his quickest 5K yet for the last, zipping it in 21:12 to clinch the gold.
“I arrived in Beijing in good shape and ready to win,” said Schwazer. It sure didn't look that way but Schwazer said "it was relatively easy."
"My hamstrings are killing me,” said Tallent, who had won the bronze medal in the 20K six days earlier. “If I sit down, I may not get back up again.”
He’d undergone warm weather training sessions in Japan.
“It really paid off for me,” he said.
Nizhegorodov was hoping to complete a Russian triple swepp of the walking golds – his comrades had won the men’s and women’s 20Ks – but it was not to be.
Judging problems didn’t help his cause. He walked a long way with two red cards reported on him and had to be on his best behavior thereafter.
“The referees (judges) were watching me carefully,” he said. “I nearly go disqualified so had to slow down, I went with care.”
Spain’s Jesus Angel Garcia closed fast to nab fourth in 3:44:08, with Norway’s Erik Tysse (who had cheered his sister Kiersti Platzer to the 20K silver the day before) fifth in 3:45.08.
In the Canadian-USA dual meet, Edmonton’s Tim Berrett was 38th (4:08.18) and San Diego’s Phillip Dunn 39th (4:08.32.)
Dunn smartly measured his pace and walked virtually even 25K splits of 2:04:08 and 2:04:24. His strategy of gradually moving through the field –all the way from 59th at 5K to 39th at the end - paid off.
"I'm elated, one, because it's over," he said.
"Coming in, I knew it had been a long year. This is my third 50k this year. I think it was as good an effort as when I go t the "A" qualifier at the World Cup; 50K racing is always a challenge. It's brutal. World champions were dropping left and right. I had a strong and steady race.
"Four years ago (at Athens) I was pretty sure I was done, but I love it so much. The other athletes, the travel, the camaraderie, I don't know how you replace that. Maybe I'll find something else. So we'll see."
It was his third Olympic Games, he competed with honor, and you can't ask for any more.
and that's all yiu a.