Ruslan Dmytrenko wins the men's 20km at the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Taicang (© Getty Images)
Turn the clock back nearly eight months and Ruslan Dmytrenko was sat in his hotel room. disappointed and slightly despondent after the men’s 20km race walk at the 2013 IAAF World Championships.
Seventh was not a bad result, for sure, but certainly not the finish the Ukrainian was expecting after coming home fourth over the same distance at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup over the border in Saransk the year before.
Dmytrenko had gone to the Russian capital last summer optimistic he could be in the fight for the medals after finishing second at the World University Games in Kazan a month before but, as he later realised, he had got his preparations for two big races in little more than four weeks badly wrong.
He left the Luzhniki Stadium not on his own two feet but on a stretcher.
“I worked hard all the distance (in Moscow) but when I came into the stadium I saw only blinking stars in front of my eyes and on the backs of my rival,” Dmytrenko said recently.
“I made a huge kick to overcome two of them but it was a big mistake. I didn’t know I had to walk one lap more in the stadium. After a short stop, I threw myself into the final lap. I remember well seeing the 200m start line (on the final lap) and then nothing more. I recovered consciousness much later in ambulance car and couldn’t understand what was happening. I didn't even remember whether I was able to cross the finish line or not.”
However, in the next few days, high jumper Bohdan Bondarenko and heptathlete Hanna Melnychenko struck gold in the Russian capital and his compatriots’ success changed Dmytrenko’s mood, and was a contributing factor in his victory at the IAAF World Race Walking Cup in the Chinese city of Taicang on Sunday.
“Bohdan and Hanna got very good results and they actually inspired me to do better here in Taicang. I was cheering for them and supporting them in Moscow, and I believe what they have achieved was an enormous push for me after what had happened,” said Dmytrenko after his national record of 1:18:37.
His time took almost a minute off the previous record of Ivan Losev, who had clocked 1:19:30 at the national championships in Alushta in February but who was to struggle home in 52nd place in Taicang. In turn, Losev had improved upon the long-standing previous standard of 1:19:43 by Anatoly Solomin back in 1983, when Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union.
“I was dreaming that one day I would be able to achieve what Bohdan and Hanna had achieved. I definitely think that they helped me a lot,” added the 28-year-old from Kiev who now lives in Donetsk.
“I was happy about getting seventh in Daegu, and I was happy with fourth place at the last Cup in Saransk in 2012, but I was not happy about finishing in seventh place in Moscow last summer.”
“Now, I’m very happy to have made history here (in Taicang). It was unimaginable before today. I also have to thank my opponents in the race. Without them (constantly making the pace) I would not have done so well and walked so fast.
“It was raining quite heavily during the race but, personally, I don’t think it was a problem. In fact, I think it helped me bring out my best performances but I didn’t quite expect my performance to be this good.”
Dmytrenko produced a negative split, the second half of his race almost two minutes faster than the first 10km.
“In the second half of the race, I did accelerate quite fast and there are three reasons for this. Firstly, I didn’t want to lose my position (in comparison to the others). Secondly, I had to stay in contention for the gold medal, and thirdly it was because I was under pressure from my opponents, who were pushing me and going forward."
He arrived in Taicang full of confidence after comfortably winning the prestigious Lugano Trophy Memorial Mario Abisetti in March, the Swiss leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
“I liked how easily I did it,” said Dmytrenko. “I didn’t have a target of winning in Lugano but just wanted to walk following my own rhythm and time schedule. It was interesting to note that I passed 10km mark to the second of what I wanted: 40:30 (just 20 seconds slower than in Taicang).
He spent most of April training at altitude in Turkey and, as showed in Taicang, this time he got his preparations right.
Perhaps roles within the top echelon of Ukrainian athletics have now been reversed.
With Dmytrenko’s victory having made the headlines all across Ukraine on Monday, maybe Bondarenko – with whom he shares a passion for fishing – and Melnychenko will take inspiration from him as the trio head towards the European Championships in Zurich this coming August.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF (with the help of Liudmyla Iakasheva)