Sergey Kirdyapkin yesterday became the first Russian to win the men’s 50km walk Olympic title since Andrey Perlov triumphed in 1992 for the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The 32-year-old two-times world champion timed an Olympic record of 3 hours, 35 minutes and 59 seconds to beat Australia’s Jared Tallent, who took a second successive silver, by 54 seconds.
Si Tianfeng gave China their first Olympic medal in the 50km walk as he took the bronze 1 minute, 17 seconds adrift. His performance completed a great Games for China’s male walkers, whose first Olympic medals included gold in the 20km.
Kirdyapkin succeeded Italy’s disgraced defending champion Alex Schwazer, who was withdrawn from the Italian team before the Olympics for failing a drugs test.
About a dozen athletes had formed the early lead group, with 2007 world champion Nathan Deakes and Tallent among three Australians in the bunch.
However, all three talented Russians were up with them, including Kirdyapkin and reigning world champion Sergey Bakulin.
Also up there were two Guatemalans, including Errick Barrondo, whose silver medal in the 20km walk had been his country’s first ever at an Olympics, while fancied Frenchman Yohann Diniz, the two-times European champion, was also prominent.
Bakulin upped a gear at the 25km mark and it saw the lead group reduced to eight, comprising Deakes and Tallent, the other two Russians, Diniz and the two Guatemalans, although Jaime Quiyuch was one warning away from being disqualified.
Quiyuch’s walk on the wild side came to a sad end just after the 2-hour mark, the judge raising the red card prompting him to raise his hands in shock, then burst into floods of tears.
It was Si who blew the race apart as he produced a burst just after the 30km mark and in double-quick time wiped away the 20 seconds gap between himself and the lead group of five.
Such was his momentum that he surged on to open an 8-second lead over the five.
Barrondo’s lack of experience at the distance, in which he only made his debut this year, told and he dropped away, while Deakes’s hopes of bowing out with an Olympic title also ended as he too lost touch.
Tallent, though, found a second wind and joined the chasing group, passing Diniz, who was already struggling when his medal hopes disappeared as he tripped over a hoarding and fell.
While Tallent was in pursuit of the Russian trio, Kirdyapkin came alive and joined his compatriots in reeling in Si with 10km to go.
Tallent bided his time and then swept past tiring athletes, including Si, but never managed to get within striking distance of Kirdyapkin — the Australian content to salute the crowd on the final lap.