Zhang Yao and David Hurtado in the 10,000m race walk at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 (© Getty Images)
After covering 25 laps of the track in uncomfortably warm conditions, just six thousandths of a second separated the top two finishers at the end of the men’s 10,000m race walk at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018.
Zhang Yao was bidding to become the first man in history to complete a full set of global age-group race walking titles. The Chinese teenager had already won two out of a possible three, having triumphed at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017 and in the U20 10km event at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018.
And for 9,980 metres of today’s 10,000m race walk, he looked well on his way to pick up a third global title. Ecuador’s David Hurtado, though, produced an inspired effort down the final home straight and crossed the line level with Zhang.
A nervous wait followed. Zhang had punched the air with delight as he crossed the line, but the longer it took for the results to become official, the more unsure he became about whether he had taken the gold medal.
After a couple of minutes, it was finally confirmed: Zhang had won the title in 40:32.06. Hurtado was given the same time in second place, but just six thousandths of a second separated them in the photo finish: 40:32.054 to 40:32.060.
The race got underway at a steady pace. Japan’s Sho Sakazaki led during the early stages, taking the field through 1000 metres in 4:03.30 and 2000 metres in 8:17.33.
Kenya’s world U18 bronze medallist Dominic Samson Ndigiti then led for several laps with Sakazaki, Japanese compatriot Tatsuhiko Nagayama, Poland’s Lukasz Niedzialek and David Kuster of France all near the front.
Australia’s Kyle Swan made a brief appearance at the head of the pack, while his teammate Declan Tingay was a few strides back in the middle of the leading group. By 4000 metres, reached in 16:35.20, Zhang and Chinese teammate Wang Zhaozhao were right behind Ndigiti, so too were Guatemala’s Jose Ortiz, Australian duo Swan and Tingay, plus Hurtado.
Little had changed in the positions of the leaders at half way, which Ndigiti passed in 20:43.39. Hurtado made his move soon after, though, and the pace gradually started to pick up.
A 3:52.19 split between 6000 and 7000 metres blew the field apart, leaving just Hurtado, Zhang and Ortiz out in front. Ortiz stuck with the leading pair for another 1000 metres before he started to struggle, but he was relatively safe in third place.
Hurtado and Zhang, meanwhile, continued to play a cat-and-mouse game during the closing stages. Zhang hit the front with three laps left, but the Ecuadorian went back into the lead with 700 metres left.
As the bell sounded for the final lap, Zhang went back into the lead and opened up a four-metre lead on Hurtado. Possibly thinking his lead was bigger than it actually was, Zhang appeared to ease off slightly on the final home straight. Hurtado picked up his cadence and started to close in on the Chinese leader.
The race reached its exciting conclusion with the pair crossing the line in unison before Zhang was later declared the winner.
“I’m quite surprised I won,” said Zhang. “I have worked hard for this for seven years. This title means a lot to me.”
Although slightly disappointed to miss out on the gold medal, Hurtado was proud of his achievement.
“My goal was to win the gold medal but it became difficult for me as I got two yellow cards, so I took it easy up to 8km and then tried as much as I could,” he said. “It was very hot and I felt dehydrated during the race.”
With Ortiz holding on to take bronze with 40:45.06, all three medallists were rewarded with PBs. Tingay was fourth in 40:49.72, breaking the Oceanian U20 record that had previously been held by Olympic bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF