Matej Toth wins the 50km race walk at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)
Presumably Matej Toth shook hands with some of his fellow competitors before the start of the 50km race walk on Saturday morning. It would be some time before he would see any of them again.
Toth led the race walk virtually from gun to tape. The world leader this year, he became the best in the world, too, with a victory in 3:40:32.
It was the first ever world championships gold medal for Slovakia, which competed up to the third IAAF World Championships in 1991 as part of Czechoslovakia.
More importantly, it was the first gold medal to Toth, who finished second behind Yohann Diniz in the Frenchman’s world record outing at the European Championships in Zurich last year. Seventh at the 2012 Olympics, he was fifth in Moscow two years ago. His biggest win had been the 2010 IAAF World Race Walking Cup 50km.
Jared Tallent acquired yet another minor medal in finishing second in 3:42:17. It was the first World Championships silver for the hyper-consistent Australian to go with bronze medals in Daegu in 2011 and Moscow two years ago. He also has silver medals from the past two Olympic Games so has taken a medal over 50km at five successive global championships.
Japan’s Takayuki Tanii won the back-and-forth battle with teammate Hirooki Arai and Ireland’s defending champion Robert Heffernan to take the bronze medal in 3:42:55. Each of them looked to have a medal in their keeping at different times in the latter stages of the race.
There were also personal bests – rare in the warm conditions – from Chinese pair of Zhang Lin and Yu Wei in sixth and seventh places, respectively.
The 21-year-old Zhang improved from 3:47:11 to 3:44:39 and is clearly a name to note for the future. Yu trimmed 1:46 off his previous best.
But the day truly belonged to the winner.
Toth, 32, was eight seconds in front after 5km, almost half a minute up after 10km and a full minute by halfway. Tallent led a short-lived attempt to reel him in after 15km, but no one else went with him and he soon returned to the chase pack.
Toth just kept going away. His fastest 5km of the race was from 35km to 40km and he then continued at pretty well that pace to the finish.
The only things that seemed to be troubling Toth had nothing to do with his rivals.
Three times he donned a cap and twice he changed his mind and removed it again. He then had a pitstop just after 30km, losing some 22 seconds from a lead that had now grown beyond a minute.
His response: a 4:17 kilometre, his fastest of the race. He lapped teammate Martin Tistan just before halfway and the pair had a brief chat.
Otherwise, Toth proceeded in splendid isolation, though he had time to engage in some animated exchanges with supporters in the crowd as he neared the finish.
Heffernan came into the race with little form to his name this year. He was fourth to Toth in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge 50km event in Dudince in March when Toth produced the third-fastest time in history.
But the Irishman turned in a spirited title defence. Along with Tallent, he did most of the work in the chasing pack and he remained in contention for the silver and then bronze medal almost to the end.
Jesus Angel Garcia of Spain, the world champion in Stuttgart in 1993 and three times a medallist since, finished ninth in 3:46:43 in his record 12th appearance at the World Championships.
Now 45, the Spaniard is the oldest man competing in these championships and he has said that he has no intention of hanging up his racing flats, so potentially could be the oldest competitor ever in IAAF World Championships history if he is on the start line in London in two years’ time
Len Johnson for the IAAF