Canada’s men’s team claimed their first-ever medal at the IAAF World Racewalk Challenge Saturday in Rome, Italy.
Three Vancouver-based athletes of Evan Dunfee, Inaki Gomez and Benjamin Thorne (Thorne is originally from Kitimat), earned the silver by finishing with 27 points, just behind the Chinese team, who took gold with the top-two fastest performances at a low of 16 points. Ecuador earned bronze with 41 points.
“I’m really happy with the race overall. Going into this I wanted a personal best along with a team medal and that’s exactly what I ended up getting,” said Thorne. ”The leaders dropped some pretty fast kilometres in the final stages, so the last three kilometres felt brutal.”
Thorne led the Canadians with a fifth-place finish and earned his personal best as well. He finished in the time of 1:19:55. Gomez finished two spots back for seventh and Dunfee rounded out the team in 16th.
Dunfee told Athletics Illustrated, “I had a tough day out there individually. My training had been going well and I felt I hit my taper perfectly but even with a relatively modest early pace I never really felt comfortable. I fought really hard to stay in contact with the lead group and when they made their break at 13km with me now 15-plus seconds down I was a benefactor because that caused the pack to blow up and I just put my head down and tried to pass as many stragglers as possible. I’m proud of how I fought and I honestly don’t know what I would have done differently if we did it again, put myself in a perfect position but just didn’t have the right stuff today.”
Thorne added, “I had some pretty spectacular training in Flagstaff in April and based on that I think I should be able to improve on this performance in Rio, hopefully by more than 2 seconds.”
Canada sent a fourth walker in Calgary’s Mathieu Bilodeau, just in case. At each event it seems that at least one of the rising Canadian team members seems to bring out their best.
“The beauty of it is that with our team when one of us falters the others seem to rise to new heights. Ben and Inaki had phenomenal races, well in line with where their training had been. Their efforts, combined with me fighting hard to stay in the top-16 ensured us silver as a team, arguably the best we could have dreamed us with the Chinese team being so dominant.”
The podium finish serves as redemption, as the team missed bronze in the 2014 event by a single point, where Dunfee, Gomez and Thorne finished 11, 12 and 13th, individually. They did manage to beat Russia in that event by 14 points – a team that has been banned from international athletes for apparent systematic doping.
“The fact that China is a billion-plus people race walking mecca with huge talent identification system, centralized training and a rich history of race walk success, that three guys from BC (and that said Mat raced a gutsy race and was a valuable asset to the team on and off the course yesterday!) could step up and even give them the slightest challenge is nothing short of remarkable.” Shared Dunfee.
The top-three finishers were Zen Wang of China with a finishing time of 1:19:22, while teammate Zelin Cai crossed the line in the time of 1:19:34 and Spanish walker Álvaro Martin was just two seconds back at 1:19:36 for a new personal best time.
“The next step now is to prepare for Rio. This was my last race and I’ll now focus on getting some quality 50km training in. I believe I can challenge for the podium in Rio if I put together a few solid blocks, so as always, that will be the goal!”