© Copyright – 2015 – Athletics Illustrated

It has been said in the media that Andre De Grasse is putting Canada back on the map in the 100 and 200-metre sprints. Perhaps he is, however, a couple of Canadian men might just be making race-walking hip in a country that has largely viewed the event as a Mexican and European thing.

The athletics portions of the 2015 Toronto Pan Am/Para Pan Am Games started on Friday with the women’s marathon and continued on the roads Saturday with the 20-kilometre race-walk competitions. Track and field started today.

Evan Dunfee and Inaki Gomez got down to business taking both gold and silver positions in very humid and warm conditions, in a stacked field of international competitors. Due to the heat and humidity it appeared that there was either fear of commitment to a high effort or scattered race strategies. Regardless, Dunfee and Gomez, leading in front of their home crowd were not going to fool around with this opportunity, hot conditions or not.

The race started out slow, as the first two kilometres passed in 9:22. In comparison the women moved faster in their race, they passed through two-kilometres in 9:00. It was at this point that Gomez and Dunfee decided to drop the hammer. “After a very slow 9:22 – 2km split time, Evan and I looked at each other and decided that it was time to pick up the pace. We were not sure who would follow, but that did not matter to us. Only one athlete followed us – the Brazilian (Ciao Bonfim),” shared Gomez.

It was around the 5K where the race started to really break open. Sensing a need to establish a crippling lead, Dunfee made his move.

“By 5K I was alone and I decided I needed to try to get as big a lead as possible and every lap I just kept seeing the gap get a little bigger. They didn’t believe that I could hold on and I think by 10-12k the pack realized I wasn’t coming back and they scrambled to start chasing. That wreaked havoc on the group as many athletes fell off and others picked up a couple warnings,” shared Dunfee.

“After kilometre five, Evan must have decided that he wanted to further inject speed to the pace we were going at and soon enough, he was putting a gap between himself and me. Over the next 15km he continued to distance himself, walking away with the gold,” added Gomez.

At the 5K mark Dunfee and Gomez were together, the clock read 21:55, which put them on pace for a 1:27.40 finish time, which was slow. The world record is 1:16:36, set this year by Yusuke Suzuki of Japan. But the pace could be excused, again due to the warm and humid conditions as well as the slow start.

   “I could not have predicted how Evan would execute his race in such an incredible manner.”

Ciao, the Brazilian was hot on their heels, back just two seconds, while a blanket could have been thrown over the next eight competitors who all passed through 5K in 22:22.

Gomez told Athletics Illustrated, “The plan was to come in and fight for a medal. In my personal plan I aimed to win, but like any time in sport, one cannot anticipate external factors – I could not have predicted how Evan would execute his race in such an incredible manner. Clearly the rest of them didn’t think we’d be able to hold on. I just kept telling myself that it wasn’t that hot and that I was now just a 15K tempo session,”

That final 15K was walked in 61.11, which was a pace that could have resulted in a sub-81.40 performance, which is an international-calibre time considering the conditions.

Meanwhile Dunfee was thinking, “It wasn’t really until 3K to go that I started thinking… They aren’t going to catch me. I might have this.”

Just like training was the motto I kept telling myself. Every kilometre I just kept doing the math. I have “X” amount of a lead and if I do the last so many kms in this time then the rest need to go “Y” pace to catch me…” This is significant thinking for someone who has officials located throughout the course, literally watching his every move. To panic and bolt off might cause an infraction. One athlete wasn’t so lucky.

With one kilometre remaining in the race, Barrondo was only one second back of Gomez.

“I had not exerted myself and felt that I could push the pace at any point to try to break Barrondo of Guatemala and Caio, the Brazilian, who was still hanging on a few meters behind. Finally, in the last lap, I made a push and dropped the pace to 4:05/km and Barrondo quickly responded to try to stay with me. However, in trying to keep up with me, he picked up his third and final card and was eventually pulled off the course with approximately 650m to go,” said Gomez.

“It was so amazing out there; there was so much support around the course. It was a gutsy strategy but it paid off and I think it was a good show for the fans,” shared Dunfee.

Gomez agreed, “I don’t think Evan or I could have planned this race more perfectly. We took the risk by going out hard, but it paid off.”

Gomez added, “Part of our success has to do with the amazing support that we received by the crowds that day. There was something special, and we took advantage of it. Whenever possible, we would signal the crowd to cheer loudly. I will never forget going down the final 100m with more than 2000 fans screaming and my teammate waiting for me at the finish line to celebrate this incredible feat. Going 1-2 at home is an amazing highlight for us.”

It is said that success is at the confluence where preparation meets opportunity. Dunfee and Gomez took that opportunity at the 5K mark, but they were also well-prepared. “Both Evan and I have always been extremely diligent about pre-race cooling strategies. With the assistance of Athletics Canada’s Integrated Support Team, we set out a plan to ensure that our bodies were cool and ready for the start of the race. We had ice-vests to keep our core body temperatures down and minimize the body’s rapid reaction to heat. This worked like a charm,” said Gomez.

The winners are not resting on their laurels. The 2015 IAAF World Track and Field Championships are taking place in Beijing, China next month and both athletes will be representing Canada. It may be hot.

“This result gives us a great deal of confidence going into next month’s IAAF World Championships. We know that conditions may be tough there, but just like we prepared for this race, we will be ready to tackle whatever comes our way in Beijing in a month’s time,” shared Gomez.