By Brian Homewood
DOHA (Reuters) – Japan’s Yusuke Suzuki won the world championship 50 kilometres race walk on Sunday while 43-year-old Joao Vieira defied conditions he described as “hell” to become the oldest man to win a medal in any event.
The Portuguese veteran, taking part in his 11th world championship, finished second while Canada’s Evan Dunfee was third. Suzuki led for virtually the entire race, held in torrid conditions, as he won in a time of four hours 04:20 minutes.
China’s Liang Rui won the women’s race in four hours 23.26 minutes ahead of compatriot Li Maocuo with Eleonora Anna Giorgi of Italy in third.
The races began at 11.30 p.m. to avoid the worst of the Doha heat but conditions were still stifling with high humidity.
“For me, it was hell … very, very hot … it was very bad,” Vieira told Reuters. “How did I cope? Just a lot of ice and cold water.”
Vieira, who said that he intended to compete in his final world championship in two years’ time, added that the late hour was also a challenge.
“It’s four o’clock in the morning – that’s the time to leave a nightclub. I usually go to sleep at 10 o’clock in the evening,” said Vieira, who added to the bronze medal he won in Moscow in 2013 in the 20 kilometres.
“I feel great … it’s not every day that you win a medal, especially at the age of 43. (The secret) is to train every day with pleasure, and do what I enjoy doing – which is athletics. Just that.”
Apart from the late hour and the brutal weather, the race was held in a somewhat surreal atmosphere with almost no spectators apart from the athletes’ team mates, officials and reporters.
The races consisted of 25 loops of Doha’s waterfront highway although the athletes only got small glimpses of the sea because of advertising hoardings and floodlight towers along the length of the course.
The IAAF, the governing body of athletics, said it took extra precautions such as increasing refreshment points and a stronger presence of medical staff.
Defending champion and world record holder Yohann Diniz was an early casualty, the Frenchman saying he “started to suffocate quickly” after dropping out.
Suzuki quickly broke away and led for nearly the entire four hours. At one point, he was more than three minutes clear but began to look shaky with seven kilometres to go and slowed to near walking pace at the refreshment stations.
China’s Niu Wenbin cut his lead to around 90 seconds on the last lap but was himself overhauled by Vieira and Dunfee.
Dunfee described the conditions as “carnage” but not dangerous. “From a safety point of view, it was fine, the eight stations were plenty, medical was amazing,” he said.
Liang comfortably won the women’s race as she finished more than three minutes ahead of her nearest rival.
“Before the start, I knew it was going to be hot. My coach told me to start slowly and use the ice,” she said. “I think it helped a lot.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)