Brendan Boyce over the moon as he walks his way to sixth place in Doha
Donegal athlete puts in the performance of his career in gruelling 50km event
Ireland’s Brendan Boyce moonwalks across the finish line as he came home sixth in the 50km walk at the IAAF World Athletics Championship at Corniche in Doha. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Brendan Boyce survived the most gruelling of events at the World Championships in Doha and turned in the performance of his career to finish sixth in the 50km walk.
Coached by 2013 world champion Rob Heffernan, Boyce also clocked an excellent time of 4:07.46 despite the heat, briefly turning around at the finish to moonwalk over the line, such was his delight.
Like the marathon the event was staged overnight to give some relief from the heat. From the Finn Valley club in Donegal, Boyce also bided his time along the 2km loop along the waterfront in Doha, producing a tactical and psychological race plan that appeared to work a treat.
“It was hot, but I totally zoned out for the first 40km, as if it was a training session, then turned it into a 10km race, and that’s the way it turned out,” said Boyce, who didn’t let the early race moves bother him as he gradually scythed his way through the field and moved strongly over the final 10km to seal a memorable performance.
“I just started picked people off then, the race plan was perfect, and Rob made sure I was confident in what I was doing, and everything was just bang on. It didn’t matter about the conditions, everything was prepared so well, it was always going to be top six, top eight, that was the plan. Everyone was in my corner this year, and sixth in the World Championships, I’m just so happy everything worked out.
Heffernan added: “Having watched the women’s marathon the night before we prepared to not have any excuses and I’m delighted it worked out for him.”
History was made in more ways than one in the event, as Yusuke Suzuki became the first Japanese race walker to win a world title, making a bold move in the early stages to build a lead that largely went unchallenged.
Portugal’s Joao Vieira, making his 11th World Championships appearance at the age of 43, came through to finish second, becoming the oldest medallist ever at the World Championships. And a fast-finishing Evan Dunfee took bronze – nearly catching Vieira before the line – to become Canada’s first ever medallist in the 50km race walk.
As ever with the 50km race walk, there was drama throughout, Suzuki making an early move, striding into the lead after just a couple of minutes. Defending champion Yohann Diniz, however, wasn’t going to relinquish his title without a fight and the Frenchman caught up with Suzuki at 10km, reached in 49:11.
That didn’t last long, as Diniz dropped back and later dropped out. Ecuador’s Claudio Villanueva made a brief bid to challenge Suzuki and breezed through the field into second place, but he soon paid for his move and dropped out also.
Having tracked Boyce for much of the way, Dunfee started moving into a medal position. Suzuke showed his first signs of stress just before 44km when he stopped at the fuelling tables, slowing to a regular walk, but managed to hold on to cross the finish line in 4:04.20. Spain’s 1993 world champion Jesus Angel Garcia – who, at 49, was making a record 13th appearance at the World Championships – finished eighth in 4:11.28.
It followed Thomas Barr’s closely fought race for a place in the World Championship 400m hurdles final earlier in the evening, only hard as he tried to reach out he couldn’t quite grab it. After pouring every last ounce of effort in the final metres he finished fourth in a season best of 49.02 seconds, .05 of a second off Japan’s Takatoshi Abe in third.
Instead those top two places went to two of the gold medal challengers, the American Rai Benjamin, who ran 46.98 in Zurich last month, taking the win in 48.52, with home favourite Abderrahman Samba, the Qatari athlete who dominated the 2018 season when recording his best time of 46.98, taking second in 48.72.
The two fastest non-qualifying times were 48.67 and 48.93, not beyond Barr’s range by any means, but on the day it just wasn’t to be. Barr’s 49.02 left him 10th best overall in the event, and was also the third straight time he ran short of the World Championship final. Four years ago in Beijing he was edged out after finishing fourth in his semi-final, and two years ago in London, Barr saw his hopes literally go down the toilet due to the outbreak of gastroenteritis, having also come through his heat.