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Poland's Dawid Tomala cruised to victory in the Olympic men's 50-km race walk with a dominant performance over the second half of the race in Sapporo on Friday, reaching the top of the podium in just his second completed race at the distance.

Germany's Jonathan Hilbert took the silver medal and Canada's Evan Dunfee claimed the bronze.

Japan's Masatora Kawano finished 6th, ahead of compatriots Hayato Katsuki and Satoshi Maruo in 30th and 32nd, respectively.

Tomala, 31, said he switched to the 50-km distance from the 20 km earlier this year because he was "bored and needed new challenges," and his decision paid immediate dividends.

"This year changed everything for me because I started for the first time 50K. It's the second 50 in my life and a gold medal is crazy, right?" he said.

Tomala's triumph marked the second surprise race walk gold of the Tokyo Olympics, after Italy's Massimo Stano won the 20-km event the previous day for his first victory in a major international race.

China's Luo Yadong was in front for most of the first third of the race, until the pack including Tomala caught up with him at the 20-km mark.

Tomala began distancing himself from the crowd around the 30-km stage, progressively increasing his lead to more than three minutes at one stage. He finished in 3 hours, 50 minutes and eight seconds, coming in 36 seconds in front of Hilbert.

Tomala pushed the pace despite his large lead although he did take his foot off the gas near the end with first place assured and not wanting to jeopardize his victory.

"I had around 15K to the end and I knew it is possible to lose energy, because in a 50K, anything can happen. Sometimes you walk fast and you can't finish the race…. But I felt comfortable at that speed so tried to walk it as long as I could."

"But in the end, the most important was to win this medal so I slowed down, because the gold medal is the gold medal."

Kawano, who holds the Japanese national record in the event, regained his composure after clutching his chest and collapsing in exhaustion at one point, but fell from medal contention in the final moments of the grueling race as the summer heat took its toll.

Twelve out of 59 competitors did not finish, including two who were disqualified.

Maruo, the world's No. 3-ranked walker who came into the event with the fastest time in the world this year as per World Athletics, voiced disappointment at failing to win a medal in what could be the last-ever Olympic 50-km race walk.

"As I was walking I was thinking, this is the last time and Japan needs to win gold. I'm sad that I wasn't able to achieve that," he said.

The event has been dropped from the schedule for the 2024 Paris Games because there is no equivalent race for women.

World record holder and 2017 world champion Yohann Diniz of France had been hoping for one last chance at Olympic glory. But he dropped out of the race before the 30-km mark, citing fatigue and back pain and saying it was one competition too many for the 43-year-old.

"That will be the image of my career, the highs and the lows, and now good luck to the future generation. For me it's finished," he said.

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