AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Dunfee wins historic 50km race walk bronze at Tokyo 2020

Five years after he came within seconds of the Olympic podium, Evan Dunfee took that historic step for Canada, winning bronze at Tokyo 2020.

It is Canada’s first ever Olympic medal in the 50km race walk, the longest athletics event. Dunfee finished in 3 hours 50 minutes and 59 seconds.

For the latter half of the race, Dunfee was part of a chase group of five behind race leader Dawid Tomala of Poland, who had broken away from the field and was at one point in front by more than three minutes.

Evan Dunfee pours water over himself during the 50km race walk
Athletes including Evan Dunfee, of Canada, pour water on themselves during the men’s 50km race walk at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Sapporo, Japan. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

At about the 45km mark, Dunfee was in fifth place, as Germany’s Jonathan Hilbert and Spain’s Marc Tur had separated themselves from the rest of their small chase group. Dunfee was 19 seconds behind those two.

But in the closing kilometres, Tomala started to lose his pace. Tur also began to fade and Hilbert took over second place on his own. Dunfee had Tur in his sights and as they neared the finish line, the Canadian reeled him in and passed him, taking the bronze nine seconds ahead of the Spaniard and pumping his arms in celebration.

Tomala ended up winning the gold in 3:50:08, just 36 seconds ahead of Hilbert, with Dunfee only 15 seconds behind him.

Evan Dunfee on the ground after winning bronze in the 50km race walk
Evan Dunfee, of Canada, celebrates after crossing the finish line third in the men’s 50km race walk at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Sapporo, Japan. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

Dunfee came into the Games as the reigning world bronze medallist, having conquered the intense heat at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar. That proved to be good preparation, as he exchanged cooling packs around his neck throughout the race. At one of the last aid stations just before the bell lap, Dunfee dropped the cooling pack he was handed and continued on without it.

The race walks and marathons had been moved to Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido in anticipation of high heat in central Tokyo at this time of year. But at 9:00 a.m. local time, it was 29 degrees Celsius, feeling like 35 with 68 per cent humidity.

Dunfee had been lauded for his sportsmanship in his fourth-place finish in Rio. He had been bumped by Japanese racer Hirooki Arai in the closing kilometres and, for a few hours, Dunfee was listed as the bronze medallist when Arai was disqualified. But after the Jury of Appeal reinstated Arai, Dunfee declined to push the issue further and the results stood with the Canadian one spot away from a podium position.