DOHA – Yusuke Suzuki captured Japan’s first race walk world title and secured a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after winning gold in the men’s 50-km contest at the IAAF World Athletics Championships on Sunday.
Suzuki, who set the national 50-km race walk record earlier this year, stayed ahead of the pack despite severe heat in the Qatari capital that saw many racewalkers drop out, including defending champion and world record holder Yohann Diniz of France.
“I don’t feel like (I won the title). I was just desperate to finish,” Suzuki said. “The relief of just being able to reach the goal is the best. The last 16 km was a battle against anxiety.”
The 31-year-old also competes in the 20-km race walk, an event he appeared in at the 2012 London Games and for which he holds the world record.
Suzuki finished in 4 hours, 4 minutes, 20 seconds to take the gold. Portugal’s Joao Vieira took silver in 4 hours, 4 minutes, 59 seconds to become the oldest male to win a world championships medal at age 43.
“This is very good, I am very happy,” Vieira said through a translator, adding there was no question of retirement and that he would go to the Tokyo Olympics next year.
Canada’s Evan Dunfee, who began the race at age 28 and turned 29 during it (the race began at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday) took bronze in 4 hours, 5 minutes, 2 seconds.
The women’s race saw a Chinese 1-2 finish with Liang Rui taking gold in 4 hours, 23 minutes, 26 seconds. Li Maocuo earned silver and Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi took the bronze. Defending champion Ines Henriques failed to finish.
Diniz had been scathing on the eve of the men’s race about the IAAF not taking as good care of the walkers and the marathon runners, saying they had been used as “guinea pigs” and taken for “idiots.”.
However, the 41-year-old was more sanguine when he spoke after his disappointing performance.
“I am disappointed to not be able to fight, to not have the weapons to do so,” said Diniz, who was clearly not well.
“I came here and I don’t really know why. My head was not there, I started to suffocate quickly.
“I came to defend my title but it was not to be, I just did not have the legs for it I am washed out.
“This climate is maybe not for me.”
On Saturday, Olympic hopefuls Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, Yoshihide Kiryu and Yuki Koike were all eliminated from the men’s 100-meter competition.
The Japanese trio finished with respective times of 10.15, 10.16 and 10.28 in the semifinals before American Christian Coleman won gold with a world-leading time of 9.76.
“The (starting) sound was quiet and I couldn’t hear it at all. So I was slow in the first half,” Sani Brown said. “I switched gears and ran hard from the middle but just couldn’t catch up.
“It was a race that shows how important the beginning is. I wonder if there was a part where I just wasn’t concentrating enough.”
Koike also said he had trouble at the start of the race.
“I messed up a little at the start,” he said. “It all got spoiled at the beginning, it was a waste of a race. I want to get back on my feet and get ready for the relay.”