We are privileged to have the observations and commentary of Elliot Denman. Elliot, a former Olympian from 1956 in the 50 race walk, has written about our sport for 52 years....
MEN’S 20K RACEWALK
BY ELLIOTT DENMAN
BEIJING – Valeriy Borchin found another gear. Jefferson Perez couldn’t.
And that’s why the 21-year-old Russian was invited to the top rung of the
victory platform at the “Bird’s Nest” and the 34-year-old Ecuadorian settled for the number two perch.
All at once, t heir 1-2 finish signaled the return of a Russian to the top of the Olympic 20-kilometer racewalking heap for the first time in 40 years, and the hail-and-farewell for Perez, the man who singlehandedly put his nation on the Olympic map in the mid-1990’s and has kept it there ever since.
It took Borchin an hour, 19 minutes and a single second to complete the 12.4 mile race, which consisted of three laps on the stadium track; out the gates to walk a 2,000-meter outside loop (carpeted in Mondo) nine times, then a 372-meter dash back inside and on to the finish line.
Perez was just 14 seconds back for the silver in 1:19:15, with the bronze going to Aussie Jared Tallent in 1:19:42.
There was no questioning Borchin’s clear victory. There was plenty post-race questioning about two of Borchin’s absent teammates. Sergei Morozov, who lowered the world 20K best to 1:16.43 on June 8, never showed up on the Russian entry list. And Vladimir Kanaykin, second in that same race in 1:16.53, number two all-time, was booted out by the R ussian Federation on a drug count.
“I know nothing of these things,” Borchin insisted, through translaters.
All he could say on the hot-button topic was that “in the past months, I have been training all alone.”
The absentees? “Some of my teammates have fallen ill, and it just happened they could not make it here.”
Clearly, this was not a matter he wanted to discuss in polite company.
And so the spotlight returned to the actual race.
Chinese fans rained profuse cheers down on Hao Wang, who celebrated his 19th birthday with a fourth-place 1:19:47, the highest-ever placing for a Chinese walker in Olympic competition.
Fifty-one started the 9 a.m. race. Fory-nine finished. Just two got to see the dreaded red paddle – meaning they had incurred the displeasure of the judging panel, their mode of progression getting the thumbs-down.
Borchin’s time wasn’t an Olympic record – but it was oh-so-very-close. Poland’s Robert Korzeniowski – best known for his three straight Olympic 50K wins (1996-2000-2004) – had clocked a 1:18:59 at Sydney in 2000.
As Olympic 20K races traditionally proceed, this one, held in morning heat and humidity, became a survival-of-the-fittest process, too. Twenty-five men were locked as a huge peleton past the 10K midway mark. Just 10 seconds separated Athens 2004 titlist Ivano Brugnetti of Italy (40:42) from 25th placer Ivan Trotski of Belarus (40:52.)
But soon the pace began telling, and it became every man for himself.
Borchin, hellbent for a negative second 10K split, began flooring it and moved from sixth at 14K (59:29) to first at 16K (1:04:05), now reeling off his Ks at a blistering four-minute pace.
At 18K (Borchin in 1:11:32) and Perez (1:11:35) were still locked in their personal battle for the gold, with the final 2K about to prove decisive.
The younger man found fresher legs while the older guy dug deep but could find no more energy reserves.
And now Borchin had his d ecisive lead heading into the tunnel back into the stadium and won it with some 120 meters to spare.
Athens kingpin Brugnetti, fretting over the two red “reports” for lifting popping up on the electronic scoreboard, battled home fifth in 1:19:51.
Number two Aussie Luke Adams was right on Brugnetti’s heels, sixth in 1:19:57, while Francisco “Paqullo” Fernandez of Spain, the pre-Beijing favorite of many who is coached by the redoubtable Korzeniowski, faded to seventh in 1:20.32.
A special “guts” award should go to Rustam Kuvatov of Kazakhstan, who had the audacity to sprint into the early lead and hold it past 4K in 16:20, only for the inevitable to happen and he faded to 42nd place.
The lone U.S. entry, Air Force captain Kevin Eastler, took an opposite approach, preferring to move up from the back of the pack. Gradually moving up, one tough place at a time, he finished 19 seconds and one place back of Kuvatov.
There was excitement as well as words in the mixed zone down below the stadium, where athletes get to tell their stories to the media.
Surrounded by Ecuadorian print, radio and TV members, Perez suddenly fainted away. First aid squad members quickly rushed in, but the problem proved to be temporary. Perez was simply dehydrated and recovered quickly after guzzling down the contents of several water bottles.
Just a few moments earlier, he had said that this race, his fourth Olympic appearance, would be his final major international start. What a glittering Games record he’s had – as 20K champion at Atlanta in 1996, fourth at Sydney in 2000, fourth at Athens in 2004, and now second.
All that on top of the three gold medals he’s collected at the IAAF World Championships, and the world record of 1:17:21 he set at the Paris Worlds of 2003.
But his bid to become just the second two-time Olympic 20K king (after 1960 and 1968 champion Vladimir Golubnitchiy of the Soviet Union) just wasn't to be.
In the same retirement mode were Italy’s Brugnetti and USA’s Eastler. They’re hanging up their racewalking shoes, too.
“The Russian (Borchin) and I had different strategies,” said Perez. “When he changed speed, I just couldn’t stay with him.”
But why retirement for the man who is an icon in his South American homeland?
“I have been a (world-class) racewalker for 12 years,” said Perez. “I have competed agai nst different generations of Russian walkers. A silver medal is a silver medal. I am just happy I have been able to come and compete here, so many years after my first Olympics in Atlanta.”
Tallent will double back in Thursday’s 50K walk, hoping to fill the Aussie void left by the absence of 2007 World champion Nathan Deakes, injured and out.
“I’m definitely going for a medal (in the 50K,)” he said. “It’d be nice to have two.”
Brugnetti’s retirement speech: “It’s been 10 years (competing at a high level.) “I need to see my family. I said after last September that this was (going to be) it. And now it is.”
Said Eastler, a U.S. Air Force captain: “My body’s telling me it’s time to retire.” His list of recent ailments in cludes a sports henia, oblique (side muscle) strains, tendinitis of the knee, sciatic nerve trouble, and hamstring strains.
They will roll up the Mondo carpet now, only to roll it back out for the men’s 50K on Thursday, and the women’s 20K on Friday.