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Canada's Evan Dunfee storms back to capture Olympic bronze in 50km race walk

·6 min read
Canadian Evan Dunfee celebrates after crossing the finish line to win bronze in the men's 50-kilometre race walk at Tokyo 2020 on Thursday. (Shuji Kajiyama/The Associated Press - image credit)
Canadian Evan Dunfee celebrates after crossing the finish line to win bronze in the men's 50-kilometre race walk at Tokyo 2020 on Thursday. (Shuji Kajiyama/The Associated Press - image credit)

Canada's Evan Dunfee captured bronze in the men's 50-kilometre race walk at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday with an incredible last-minute surge, earning Canada's first Olympic race walking medal in 29 years.

The Richmond, B.C., native stormed into podium position in the final metres after being behind in the chasing pack, finishing with a season-best time of three hours 50 minutes 59 seconds. The 30-year-old refused to miss the Olympic podium again after a heartbreaking fourth place finish in Rio.

Poland's Dawid Tomala claimed gold with a time of 3:50:08, while Germany's Jonathan Hilbert won silver (3:50:44).

"I just asked my body to give me everything it had and I was able to dig deep and get it," Dunfee said. "I don't need a medal to validate myself. I'm proud of what I accomplished today, but I have been dreaming of this moment and winning this medal for 21 years. I am over the moon."

WATCH | Dunfee wins Olympic bronze with late surge:

Fifty-nine athletes from 30 countries competed in the ultimate test of endurance in the extreme heat and humidity of Sapporo, Japan, with only 47 managing to finish.

Dunfee vaulted up to second place in the final 15km in an effort to chase down a relentless Tomala, but then found himself battling for position in the dwindling chasing pack before falling behind in the final 5km.

It appeared that bronze would go to either Hilbert or Marc Tur of Spain as they battled for second place on the final kilometre. But Hilbert broke away for silver, while Dunfee made a late push to charge ahead of Tur for his first Olympic medal.

"My hamstring wasn't happy with me that last six to eight kilometres," Dunfee said. "I kept asking for a little more, and it just kept saying, 'This is all you have.'

"Coming around that last bend I asked for a little bit more. I thought about my parents, my friends, my nana who isn't here. I thought of her. She always used to say [I had] wings on my feet."

WATCH | Dunfee thought about missing podium in Rio before final push:

Tomala established a commanding lead after the 30km mark en route to winning Poland's first Olympic gold in race walking since 2000.

Returning Olympian Mathieu Bilodeau of Quebec City finished 45th with a season-best time of 4:20:36

Dunfee's bronze is Canada's third race walking medal in Olympic history, and the first in the 50km event. Guillaume Leblanc won 20km silver in 1992, and George Goulding won 10km gold in 1912.

In Rio, he established the Canadian record in the event (3:41:38) while also achieving the best Canadian result in Olympic history.

"Hopefully, today means we can stop talking about Rio," Dunfee said. "I loved that moment because it has given me a huge platform. It has allowed me, over the past five years, to be able to speak to over 10,000 school kids in my local community and talk about the value of sport and what sport has turned me into."

This was the final version of the 50km event at the Olympics, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) removed the race from the Olympic program moving forward.

The event made its first appearance at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, and it was the only Olympic race walking event with no women's equivalent.

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

"It's a terrible mistake by the IOC and World Athletics. I think we showcased today that this event belongs in the Olympics," Dunfee said afterward. "The easiest solution would have been to allow women to race 50K at the Olympics."

Luo Yadong of China took a big lead in the early stages of the race, establishing a brisk pace to leave the pack in his wake.

World record holder Yohann Diniz of France gained a slight edge as the race reached the first 5km, but he proceeded to fall way back while clearly struggling with a physical issue.

Dunfee found himself 16th after 5km, 35 seconds behind the lead. The field began to spread as the race reached 15km, with the chasing pack starting to close the gap on Luo. He held a 19-second lead that continued to decrease.

Luo was eventually caught by the pack at the 20km mark. Defending Olympic champion Matej Toth of Solavkia momentarily emerged as the slight leader ahead of a closely contested group that included a determined Dunfee in 19th.

WATCH | Dunfee discusses unique challenges of race walking:

Aku Partanen of Finland was ahead of the lead pack at the half-way mark with a time of 1:58:16, while Dunfee was a mere three seconds back at 16th place among the group of 20 walkers.

Tomala pulled ahead and began to set the pace for the group, and initial leader Luo fell back dramatically. Diniz did everything he could to catch up, but he had to stop several times before eventually pulling out.

Tomala remained consistent and established a significant 1:46 gap at the 35km mark, but Dunfee was keeping pace with the chasing pack in fifth place.

Dunfee moved up to second position as he began to make a move to keep up with Tomala — temporarily putting distance between him and the pack.

Tomala passed 40km with a time of 3:03:45, increasing his lead to 2:50 ahead of the chasing pack. Dunfee dropped back to seventh in the shrinking group.

Tomala led by 3:10 entering the last 5km. Dunfee continued to jockey for position in the chasing pack, now consisting of just five athletes. But he began to fall off down the stretch, passing the 48km mark in fifth place.

Hilbert and Tur were deadlocked for second place entering the final kilometre, but Hilbert broke away and Dunfee made his move to leave a stunned Tur behind him. Tur finished nine seconds behind Dunfee for fourth.

Dunfee set a Canadian record in the 10,000-metre race walk in June with a personal-best 38 minutes 39.72 seconds. His resume also includes a bronze medal at the 2019 world championships and gold at the Pan American Games in 2015.

Bilodeau's career-best finish in the 50km event (14th) came at the 2019 world championships. The 37-year-old was teammates with Dunfee on Canada's silver medal-winning team at the 2017 world team championships.

WATCH | Bouquet of questions, with Evan Dunfee:

In the women's 20-kilometre race walk, Italy's Antonella Palmisano won gold in a time of one hour 29 minutes 12 seconds, bringing her country its first gold medal in the event.

Colombia's Sandra Lorena Arenas claimed silver, while China's Liu Hong took bronze.

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