PONTAL RACEWALKS ARE A GOOD SHOW; CLOSE RACES AND DRAMATIC FINISHES SEEN BY RECORD-SIZED MEDIA DELEGATION

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IMG_5503.JPGJared Talent, AUS, silver, Matej Toth, SLOV, gold, Hirooki Arai, Japan, bronze, Rio 50k RaceWalk

The race walks are part of Olympic history, and have been part of the history of the Olympics since it was brought back in the modern era, starting in 1896. The 50 kilometer race walk is the longest event on the Olympic schedule. The 20 kilometer race walk featured races for Men and Women. Here is our story, written by 1956 Olympic race walker Elliott Denman.

PONTAL RACEWALKS ARE A GOOD SHOW;
CLOSE RACES AND DRAMATIC FINISHES
SEEN BY RECORD-SIZED MEDIA DELEGATION

By ELLIOTT DENMAN
PONTAL, BRAZIL - It's a long-long hike - literally and figuratively - from Estadio Olimpico, at the
Engenho de Dentro stop on the Deodoro line of the Rio "tren" network,
to this upscale beach resort town.
And it's an even longer trek from the Sambodromo venue, at the Praca Onze station of the
Central Station line of the Rio Metro, where the marathon races started and finished, out to Pontal.
But you had to be in Pontal on the final Friday of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad if you wanted to be a witness to two of the closest long-distance race finishes of these Games.
How about these results in the tight proximity department?
Slovakia's Matej Toth took the men's 50K racewalk in 3:40.58, over Australia's Jared Tallent
(3:41.16), Japan's Hirooki Arai (3:41.24) and Canada's Evan Dunfee (3:41.38.)
In short, the first four in the longest footrace of the Games - 31.1 miles of it - crossed the
line within exactly 40 seconds.
Or these clockings in the women's 20K racewalk: China's Hong Liu (1:28.35) just two
seconds in front of Mexico's Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez (1:28.37), with
China's Xiuzhi Lu (1:28.42), Italy's Antonella Palmisano (1:29.03) and
China's Shijie Qieyang (1:29.04) hard on their heels.
That's five completing their appointed 12.4 miles just 29 seconds apart.
That's some truly amazing togetherness.
(Take comparative note: In the closeness category, the two marathon races were not that tight. The top four in the men 's marathon had a span of two minutes and 20 seconds; the first five in the women's marathon had a 44-second degree of separation.)
There was drama everywhere in both ends of this racewalking twin bill (staged in
oppressive heat, only intermittently cooled by a wayward sea beeze.)
France's Yohan Diniz, the world record-holder, "took it out" in the 50K (which started at 8 am) and stayed in front through 30K (2:11:29) before wilting and enduring all kinds of internal distress (we'll spare you the messy details.)
Tallent (the 2012 London champion) took over through 40 and 45K (3:18:47)
and looked like a repeat winner to many.
But not to reigning World Championships gold medalist Matej Toth of Slovakia.
Toth had led virtually start to finish winning in Beijing last year, but this was a direct
opposite. As Tallent wilted some, Toth sensed the opportunity and dug down into his
deepest reserves to bring home his nation's lone athletics medal of the Games.
As the steam of the day took its own toll, it also generated the day's big debate: Did China's Yu actually interfere with impede Canada's Dunfee, both of them weary and wobbly, in the battle for the bronze down the stretch?
Initially, after a Canada challenge, Yu was listed as DQ. But, after a Japan challenge to the Canadian challenge, Yu was restored to the bronze.
The whole episode was surely unintentional, just a clear case of two dead-tired delegates of their nations trying to stay on their feet and find a
clear path to the finish line.
Diniz struggled home in eighth; ninth-placer Caio Bonfim brought
joy to the home fans.
Understandably, the attrition rate was enormous.
Eighty started, 49 finished, 19 DNFed, and 12 were DQd, unable to maintain form and
technique in the brutal conditions.
And the situation was steamier still or the women's 20K, a 2:30 pm start under the
midday sun.
Just as many expected, it was a "pack" race throughout.
And it stayed that way almost to the very end.
Hong Liu had just that extra bit of zip to hold off Mexico's Gonzalez and
countrywoman Lu.
Where were the Americans in all this?
New Yorkers Maria Michta-Coffey (22nd in 1:33:36) and Miranda Melville (34th in 1:35:48) walked solid 20K races and beat out over half the field (74 started, 63 finished, five DNF and six DQ.) Army staff sergeant John Nunn had hoped to break the four-hour mark in the 50K for the
first time but conditions precluded it happening - he wound up 43rd in 4:16:12.
Neither of the winning times came close to records; the weather man saw to that.
But the real record was set on the sidelines.
Veteran Games-going journalists were astounded to see so many of their
colleagues at the events.
The Pontal media center was packed to its walls. Not a seat was to be had, not a vacant power outlet to be found.
Even advantageous floor spots were in short supply. The gathered print, electronic and photo journalists, their assorted credentials lanyarded around all their necks, some lucky enough to have found seats, the others sprawled all over the place, had filled the place FTB; you know, full to bursting.
And what exactly had lured them all to this temporary structure, set up just a block in from water's edge, along the Av. Lucio Costa, at this beach town, located one very long bus ride away from anything else on the day's Olympic agenda?
Why were they taking such frenzied note of the day's events, all 70 kilometers worth, as if the fate of the universe rested on the results of every last stride of every one of the participants?
The answer, my friends, wasn't blowing in the Praia do Recreio offshore breezes.
The answer was far easier to determine. Inspector Clouseau's services were never needed.
You see, dear readers, this was the Olympic Games, where any one medal event, or in this case two of them, surely counted as much as any others.
And so on this day, the 19th of August, of the year 2016, the third Friday of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, all these members of a media mob that would likely never have shown an iota of interest in racewalking, the sport-within-the-sport of track and field, at any time in the
roughly 1,460 days since the London Olympic flame had been extinguished, were now
very-very wrapped up in these goings-on along Av. Lucio Costa.
Wonderful-wonderful, such is the magnetism of the Games.
The Olympics are the Olympics are the Olympics.
Medals are medals are medals.
And all these media delegates seemed to revel in it all, caught up in their newfound - or
perhaps developing -expertise in likely the most technically demanding of all the Olympic footracing events.
They pounded out the prose of it all from start to finish - and far beyond.
They sent their newly-expert stride-by-stride analyses off to the far corners of the planet
as the competitors battled it out over the one-K loop route time after time after time.
Given racewalking's universal constituency - far more universal than in such
other Olympic events as the the pole vault, the hammer throw, the intermediate hurdles -
their reports flew out in popular profusion - every last nuance described in
English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Polish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Greek, Slovak, Swahili, Ukrainian, Turkish, Turkmenish,Rumanian...and, yes-yes,
Portuguese.
One wry commentator saw the media crush this way: Oh, wouldn't it be so-very-very nice
to see some of these same people paying attention to any other racewalking event staged before Tokyo 2020? The invitations will always be there. The racewalkers of the
planet will always guarantee lively stories.

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