Berlin Diary 09, Day 1, Men's 20k, by Eliot Denman, Note by Larry Eder



20k Walk Awards, photo by

The 20k race walk has changed, and Eliot Denman, a 1956 Olympian at 50k, and keen observer of the walks, gives us his thoughts on the 20k walk, held Saturday morning....

BERLIN – The Jefferson Perez Era of world “sprint” racewalking is over.
Has the Valery Borchin era begun?

Huge throngs of Berliners, and their many global guests, gathered along the Unter-der-Linden sidewalks yesterday to witness the men’s 20-kilometer racewalk that was the first final of the 12th World Championships and weren’t going to say “nein” to that notion.
All those fo lks – some estimated their number at over 10,000 – saw history made in all kinds of ways.

First of all, the winner’s name wasn’t Jefferson Perez. The elegant Ecuadorian – who is his nation’s greatest-ever Olympic and international sports hero – had won the Worlds at Paris in 2003 (with a world-record 1:17:21), Helsinki in 2005 (1:18:35) and Osaka in 2007 (1:22:2) and then officially retired from the racewalking game after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

All kinds of aches and pains had caught up to him, something few of his rivals could ever say. So the triple World Champion named for the third president of the United States has retreated to elder statesman status and the job of promoting increased world enthusiasm for racewalking.

Second, the 20K was moved completely out of Olympic Stadium and held as a totally separate event on the center-city streets of the German capital. The women’s 20K racewalk (Sunday) and the men’s 50K (next Friday) will follow suit, and be staged up and around the same 2000-meter Unterder-Linden loop course. Ever since the 20K became the international “sprint” walking distance for the first time at the 1956 Melboune Olympics, it’s been held over an outside loop course, but always starting and finishing inside the stadium.

And third, Borchin became just the second man in track and field history to hold both the World and Olympic 20K racewalk titles at the same time. Mexico’s Ernesto Canto – with golds at the 1983 Worlds in Helsinki and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles – is the only other man to pull off the feat. (Perez's lone Olympic gold came back in 1996.)

And Borchin did it in style – showing remarkable restraint as the others did the early pacesetting, then coming on like gangbusters in the final seven kilometers to win it going away, all in warmsh (25 centigrade), humid conditions.

It was Norway’s Erik Tysse (20 minutes flat) and the Italian duo of Ivano Brugnetti and Giorgio Rubino (both 20:01) showing the earliest zip, through 5k. But – would you believe? - 32 others were still within 20 seconds of the front trio.

It was the same threesome, Rubino (39:48), Brugnetti (39:49) and Tysse (39:50) , still out front as the pace sped through the 10K midway post.

But somewhere past the 14th K, the race broke open. The top three began their fade and Borchin began his big push.

By the 15th K, it was Borchin the co-leader with China’s surprise package, Hao Wang, at 59:29.

As Borchin’s negative-splitting continued all the way to the finish line, located just a few met ers past the historic Brandenburg Gate, Wang dropped back.

After “splitting” 20:13 for 5K,19:47 through 10K, 19:29 through 15K, Borchin uncorked a 19:12 for his final 5K for the 19:12 for his final 5K and the 1:18:41 win that’s been bested by just one man – Perez, of course (1:17:21 2003, 1:18:35 2005) in the annals of these Worlds.

He kept it nice and “legal” throughout and was never in danger of displeasing members of the international judging panel.

Wang gutted it out to hold second in 1:19:06 and thus give China its first-ever Worlds medal in the 20K, while Mexico’s Eder Sanchez (1:19:22) blew past fourth-place Rubino (1:19:50) and Colombia’s Luis Lopez (who set a national record of 1:20:03) in the closing K to snare the other medal.

Tysse hung in to place seventh, as a warmup for the 50K Friday, a double test that several other 20k men will try, too.

The Unter-der-Linden crowd loved it all, giving every last participant its full round of support. It could be said that all their rhythmic applause as the walkers made their rounds was uplifting. But that would be a violation of one of the event’s basic requirements (contact with the ground) and just two walkers in the starting field of 50, a Brazilian and an Aussie, wound up on the DQ list.

Three others failed to finish through pure fatigue and two were celebrities, 2007 silver medalist Francisco Fernandez of Spain and 2004 Olympic champion Brunetti of Italy.

Racewalking has often been considered an event for some of the hardest, most grizzled veterans of track and field. But the Berlin result proved the polar opposite.

Borchin i s 22, Wang 19 (but 20 on Sunday) and Sanchez 23. And fourth-placer Rubino is just 23, too.

Unlike many other events in track and field, racewalking a truly global endeavor.

Top finishers by continent were Borchin (Europe), Wang (Asia), Sanchez (North America), Lopez (South America), sixth-place Gary Tallent (Australia) and 19th place Hassannine Sebei of Tunisia (Africa.)

So what’s next for Borchin – whose hometown is Saransk in the Russian area called Mordovia, a long stretch East of Moscow – now that he’s a double (Olympic and Worlds) king of his realm?

“I need to rest my body and my mind now,” he said at the post-race press conference. “Believe me, this was a very tough race today. I can’t even think of doing much else for quite a while.”

Special thanks to Eliot Denman for his article.

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