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Tallent chases gold and ends with superb silver

20 August 2016

ATHLETICS: Australian race walker Jared Tallent has delivered an exceptional performance in the 50km walk at the Rio Olympic Games to win silver in the dramatic and gruelling race.

Tallent took the lead at the 39km mark and led by as much as 24 seconds with five kilometres to walk, and it looked like he could defend his crown from London 2012.

Yet Slovakian Matej Toth who had always been in the lead group had other ideas. In the final stages of the gruelling race the World Champion made his move and passed Tallent with two kilometres remaining.

Toth won in three hours 40 minutes and 58 seconds as Tallent fought on bravely to hang on for the silver in a season best 3:41.16. He was 18 seconds off gold and eight seconds ahead of Hirooki Arai of Japan who crossed the line in third but was later disqualified. That meant Canadian Evan Dunfee, who was put out of rhythm by the Japanese athlete's bump on him with a few kilometres to go, was awarded the bronze.

The medal takes Tallent’s Olympic medal tally to one gold, two silver and one bronze from three Olympics. He has now won more medals than any other Australian male athletics competitor at the Olympics.

Tallent wanted the gold medal so badly but he just didn't have the legs in the final stages to consolidate his early move.

"I really wanted it, I thought I had it," Tallent said. "I probably got a bit too excited. I was feeling really good. I was patient all throughout the race and just when I needed to be a little bit more patient I went for it and took off at 40km and I really thought I had it but I just ran out of legs with about four ks to go.

"I saw Matej coming and I was trying to do everything I could to hold on. I really wanted to come down to that finish line in first place. I gave it everything I just had nothing left".

Tallent missed a week of training recently due to a small hamstring tear but he said that didn’t impact him today. .He had already got the hard work done at an altitude training camp in Switzerland and was on his taper.

"I’m proud of the way I performed. Three Olympics in a row I’ve been able to medal in this event. It would have meant so much to hold on a get the gold here and be Olympic champion for more than a few months but I couldn’t do it unfortunately.

"Matej trains really hard and he’s a really good guy so if anyone was going to beat me he’s one of the nicest guys."

Tallent finished behind Russian drug cheat Sergey Kirdyapkin who was eventually stripped of his London result and Tallent was awarded the 2012 gold in June this year.

"It’s very different to London. I didn’t have to worry about any cheats in the race that were going to spoil the party for the clean athletes. We’re going to have a clean podium again and I’m proud to stand up their with these blokes on the podium."

Teammate Chris Erickson walked a personal best of 3:48.40 at his third Games to finish 10th in an exceptional result.

From the gun, Frenchmen, Yohann Diniz meant business and by 5km into the race he had opened a 18 second gap on the lead pack. The world record holder extended this to 30 seconds at 10km and 1:23 minutes at 15km. 

The lead pack, which included Tallent, was the usual suspects, Toth of Slovakia who won the 2015 World Championship, along with Heffernan of Ireland the 2013 World champion. The Chinese, who placed two on the podium in the 20km walk earlier in the week, were led by Yu Wei, who was seventh at the world championships in Beijing last year. Looking then best in the early stages were Toth and Talent who both put in surges to test the field.

At the 15km mark, Australia’s veteran and three-time Olympian Chris Erickson was ensconced in the second pack, two minutes adrift of the lead group, while Australia’s third entry Brendan Reading was placed in the 50s for the first half of the race, reaching the mid-way point in 1:59.30, on track for a sub-four-hour time.

Diniz continued to look impressive at the mid-way point. He had extended his lead to 1:41 minutes, while Tallent remained comfortably in the lead pack on 1:51.12 – on pace for 3:42.

But two hours and 222 minutes into the race, it took a different shape as the leader, Diniz, stopped with what appeared to be stomach cramps. Two minutes later he re-joined the race with Dunfee having made a break from the pack. Dunfee was setting the pace from 34-38 kilometres and held a 20 second lead before eventually battling to the line in fourth and a national record.

At 40 kilometres 31-year-old Tallent, with his wife and coach Claire cheering on from the drink station, made his move. By the 45 kilometre mark it looked like the Australian would increase his 30 second lead and get the gold medal ceremony he deserved in London here in Rio but Toth and Aari had other ideas.

When the Slovakian made his surge four kilometres from home Tallent could not find the extra speed and respond as Toth went straight past him. He managed to battle on bravely for the silver ahead of the fast finishing Arai.

Tallent will now be in the drink station for the women’s 20km walk later today for his sister Rachel who he coaches. The other Australians racing are Regan Lamble and Tanya Holliday.

The silver medal and top 10 result in the 50km walk follows the bronze from Dane Bird-Smith in the men’s 20km event earlier in the week.

Andrew Reid

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