Matej Toth won Slovakia’s first-ever gold medal at the IAAF World Championships, taking the 50-kilometer race walk in 3:40:32 Saturday morning in Beijing. A nation more known for its prominence on the hockey rink, Slovakia joins Eritrea as newcomers to the gold medal club this week. Toth pulled away early and never looked back, increasing his eight-second lead after five kilometers to a half second after 10 and eventually won by two minutes.
“The 50 km is a really hard event, but today it was easy for me,” Toth said in the post-race press conference. “From the start to the finish I was in control, the road condition and heat weren’t a problem for me. Before the race I had the strategy to walk my own race, I didn’t expect to lead the whole race. I know the group behind me is very strong, but when I am alone it is better for me.”
Previously to this performance, the best Slovakian result was three bronze medals, most recently from Martina Hrasnova in the 2009 hammer throw. Toth was fifth at Moscow two years ago, seventh in the London Olympics, and won the silver in the 2014 European Championships.
“It’s very important information, it’s big,” Toth said of winning the first gold. “I’m very happy it’s me, I’m happy because the Slovak Athletic Federation made many good steps to improve the conditions for athletes, and this is my gift for them.”
It was the third time silver medalist Jared Tallent of Australia (3:42:17) walked into National Stadium in Beijing and earned a medal, as he won silver in this event and bronze in the 20 kilometers at the 2008 Olympics. The 30-year-old went on to win silver again in the 50 kilometers at London in 2012 and the bronze in both the Daegu and Moscow World Championships. Earlier this week, he placed 26th in the 20 kilometer.
“The 20K didn’t meet my expectations, but my preparation suits the 50K,” Tallent said. “I couldn’t keep up in the 20K, but I still plan on racing it in Rio. I hope next year to get the gold medal. I took a large chunk out of his (Toth’s) lead, I was pushing really hard, but he was still getting away.”
Japanese athletes placed third and fourth, with Takayuki Tanii winning bronze in 3:42:55 and Hirooki Arai off the podium 50 seconds behind him. A veteran of three Olympics, Tanii picked up his nation’s first medal of these World Championships.
“My preparation has been really good towards the World Championships, I’m really happy to get the medal,” Tanii said through a translator.
Fifth place was Robert Heffernan of Ireland, Zhang Lin and Yu Wei of China were sixth and seventh, while Andres Chocho of Ecuador, Jesus Angel Garcia of Spain and Quentin Rew of New Zealand rounded out the top 10. In his record 12th appearance, the 45-year-old Garcia won the gold medal in the event in 1993. The lone American, John Nunn, was 37th with a season-best 4:09:44.