Matej Toth was the dominant winner of the 50km race walk at the Beijing World Championships. The 32-year-old Slovakian reflects on his career and shares the wisdom he’s learned along the way.
1. It's more than a job
“Many professional athletes think of their sport as just a job. I was prone to doing the same in the past. But after I ran the Kosice Peace Marathon along with thousands of others, I felt the runners’ energy. Most of them couldn’t run and train every day because they had regular jobs, but they ran simply because they loved sport.
“This served as a reminder as to why I race walk. It is not about money or fame or success. It is because I like it and I enjoy every training session and every competition. Yes, I may be a professional athlete, but in some ways I am still a boy who chose athletics simply because I love it.”
Toth took 50km race walk gold at the Beijing World Championships in August, adding to his 2010 World Cup win in Chihuahua
2. You have to fight for it
“I know I will be one of the big favourites going into the Rio Olympic Games. It was the same before the Beijing World Championships. Yet the 50km race walk is a very specific event. It is such a long event with so many variables you can never assume you are going to win.
“In the past I’ve seen many favourites make that mistake because they did not think somebody could be better than them. Yet when reality dawned during the race they were so disappointed and frustrated to be losing they either quit the race or finished way down the field. Maybe if they had been open to the possibility they might not win, they could have at least been in the fight for medals.
“I always try to walk to my own competition regardless of whether I am the favourite or not.”
In 2014, Toth won European champs silver over his favoured 50km distance
3. Make the details count
“Every detail in an athlete’s preparation is very important. Every athlete trains hard, but not every athlete achieves the same level of success.
“Sometimes an athlete forgets to take adequate rest or makes nutritional mistakes or fails to improve technically. If you want to be the best, you can’t underestimate the details.
“I pay close attention to my diet and work hard on my technique to improve movement. For me, these two details enabled me to move up the field from a fifth place finisher in Moscow [2013 World Championships] to gold in Beijing.”