Sergey Korepanov with his gold medal (© © Allsport)
Sergey Korepanov from Kazakhstan won a resounding victory in the men’s 50km race in Deauville-Mézidon today and clocked the fifth fastest time ever recorded for the distance on the road in the process: 3:39:22.
Korepanov had previously taken eighth place in the 1996 Olympic 50km walk and 9th in the 1995 world championships 50km. His last appearance in the World Cup was in the 20km race in Podebrady 97, where he came 43rd.
Korepanov's victory in Mezidon will change his life. After his 2nd place in the Asian Games, he and his coach Alexander Kitanov received a bonus of $2000, on top of his monthly allowance of $160 from the state and his club, with which he and his family (he is married with two children) must live and he has to cover his training costs - he trains at 1600m altitude in the area of Isikul in the Republic of Kirghistan. Now, on top of the $20,000 award for first place in the World Cup, he will receive a monthly stipend of $400 and a monthly allowance of another $400 towards his preparation costs for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Eight-thirty in the morning in Mézidon and a sharp crack resounds in the still morning air, as 109 athletes disappear into the morning mist like a silent army; 109 brave souls embarking on this "via dolorosa" of fifty kilometres of relentless concentration and gut-wrenching effort.
The air is cool and filled with moisture as the serried ranks set off along the winding course in the centre of this little town of the Basse Normandie, become for a weekend the centre of the world of race walking.
Two tours of the circuit, four kilometres of asphalt covered and the leaders are already pulling away from the rest of the field. Zamudio, Gonzales and Sanchez are the Mexican leaders of this foray of thirty stalwarts, pulling in their wake Jefferson Perez, "the Condor" from Ecuador, Jesus Garcia from Spain, Giovanni Perricelli (ITA), Valentin Kononen (FIN) the 1995 world champion at 50km, French favourite René Piller, Aigars Fadejevs (LAT), Nikolay Matyukhin (RUS) and Denis Trautmann (GER) amongst others.
Twenty kilometres and the leading pack is thinning out. Denis Trautmann moves into the lead with Nikolay Matyukhin by his side – the two cross the line in 1:29:15, tailed by René Piller, Joel Sanchez , Tomasz Lipiec (POL). Just a second separates the five and another second for Modris Liepins (LAT).
The pace quickens as Nikolay Matyukhin and Joel Sanchez break from the pack and pull relentlessly away, rapidly building up a lead they will maintain for the next 12 kilometres, walking side by side, like two old friends out for a Sunday morning stroll filmed by a director who has decided to push the fast forward button. The two appear invincible as they stride out into the sun now burning way the morning mists. The temperature is climbing as fast as the pace of Matyukhin who makes a break from Sanchez as he passes the 32km mark. 2:20:39 and nearly a minute separates the Russian from Aigars Fadejevs, in third place behind Sanchez.
14 kilometres out and Sanchez is fading noticeably, Matyukhin accelerating, but not alone: Sergey Korepanov (KAZ) decides that his time has come and overtakes Sanchez to take second place. 42 kilometres – the length of a marathon and Korepanov moves into the lead; three hours 4 minutes and 30 seconds after the starter’s pistol signalled the start. Matyukhin is paying the price for his efforts, pain etched in his features as he sees Korepanov draw away, forging his path through the slower contenders. Far behind the two, the defending champion Jesus Garcia contests the third place with Tomasz Lipiec.
Four kilometres to go, 3:21:53 as Korepanov surges towards the podium. He has covered the last two kilometres circuit in 8:53. Matyukhin is holding on to his second place and seems to have found new reserves as he senses the finish line drawing inexorably closer. "I was just waiting until the 35th kilometre, saving all of my energy, because I knew that the weather was changing and that it was going to be sunny and hot. From then on it was a constant acceleration to the finish. I really think that this was a perfect race!"
The bell sounds as Korepanov starts his final lap of the circuit; 3:30:37 – 8:43 for the previous 2 kilometres and 55 seconds separating him from Matyukhin. Jesus Garcia is in third place some thirty seconds behind the Russian, with Tomasz Lipiec gaining ground.
Korepanov is unbeatable as he surges towards the finish, the highest step of the podium and the fifth fastest 50km of all time: 3:39:22; oblivious of the drama unfolding behind him as Lipiec steps on the gas and overtakes first Garcia and then Matyukhin in the final kilometre, before collapsing into the arms of two attendants after crossing the finish line in second place: "I was fifth in Podebrady and have improved by nearly two minutes on my time there, today," Lipiec said after the race, in which he set a new Polish national record. "It was very strange today: very cold at the start and very hot towards the end, but when I saw that Nikolay was starting to weaken, I thought that i could overtake him and so i accelerated. Being able to walk with Garcia was a great help: he is my best friend on the circuit and he helped me through the race".
Nikolay Matyukhin came in a disappointed third after setting the pace for much of the race: "I don't think I attacked too early. This is my tactic: I always prefer to take the lead and if it goes, it goes. I don't know any other way. The problem is that Sanchez lost the pace and fell back and it was too difficult to keep that pace alone.
"Being beaten for second place was even more disappointing than losing the gold, because we were so near the finish that I had no time to react." Jesus Garcia came fourth.
Team victory went to Russia, with Spain second and Germany taking third place. The French hosts came fourth, two points behind Germany.
Sean WallaceJones for IAAF
The USA's Curt Clausen destroyed his own American record for 50km with a 3:48:04 clocking to place 11th.