His performance at the 2016 Olympic Games may be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but since then Yohann Diniz has barely put a foot wrong.
One year after his dramatic downfall in Rio, the French race walker was victorious at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. In fact, his 3:33:12 clocking there was arguably the performance of the championships.
Not only was it the second-fastest time in history, just 39 seconds shy of his world record, but he was utterly dominant. None of the other 47 men in the field covered even one kilometre faster than 4:16. Diniz clocked 4:15 or quicker in 27 of his 50 kilometres, topped by 4:03 for the 48th kilometre (6:31 mile pace).
Injury forced Diniz to miss the European Championships last year, but he returned to 50km action earlier this year, winning the European Cup title in 3:37:43 – a time no one else in the world has bettered since April 2015. At 41, Diniz is still the best race walker in the world over the 50km distance.
He is not unbeatable, though, and – as the race in Rio showed – a lot can, and will, happen in a 50km race.
Olympic champion Matej Toth hasn’t raced so far this year due to a hamstring injury earlier in the season, but the 36-year-old’s recent preparation has reportedly been solid. The 2015 world champion sits third on the world all-time list with 3:34:38, but given the conditions in Doha, the race will be less about fast times and more about smart racing – an area in which Toth excels.
Wang Qin made a breakthrough in Huangshan earlier this year, clocking 3:38:02, the fastest time by a Chinese race walker for seven years. He also performed well in his two biggest races last year, finishing fifth at the World Race Walking Team Championships and second at the Asian Games.
Niu Wenbin and Luo Yadong, who clocked 3:41:04 and 3:41:15 respectively in Huangshan, join Wang on the Chinese team.
After breaking the 20km race walk world record in 2015, Japan’s Yusuke Suzuki missed the entire 2016 and 2017 seasons through injury. He returned to action last year and has since built on that, recording his second and third-fastest times ever for 20km.
It’s the 50km, however, that he will contest in Doha. The 31-year-old made an impressive debut at the distance in April, clocking a national record of 3:39:07. Another strong showing in what will be just his second 50km race could land Suzuki with his first senior global medal.
Asian Games champion Hayato Katsuki and former national record-holder Tomohiro Noda are Japan’s other entrants for the 50km. Following a bronze medal in 2015, two medals in 2017 and a podium sweep at last year’s World Race Walking Team Championships, hopes are high for another strong showing from Japan.
Norway’s Havard Haukenes, European bronze medallist Dzmitry Dziubin of Belarus and Canada’s Evan Dunfee should all feature among the leading contenders.
Regardless of where he finishes in the race, Jesus Angel Garcia will make history just by lining up for the 50km race walk. Not only will the 49-year-old extend his own record number of appearances to 13, but the 1993 world champion will also become the oldest competitor ever to take part in an IAAF World Championships.
Keep an eye out, too, for Portugal’s Joao Vieira who will be making his 11th appearance at a World Championships – a tally bettered only by Garcia. The 43-year-old finished third at the European Cup this year with 3:46:38.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF