Canadian walker Evan Dunfee can’t avoid the circus after rallying for bronze in Sapporo

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TOKYO — Evan Dunfee is a two-time Olympian who has competed in walking events around the world. As he arrives at those weirdest Summer Games, he said he didn’t mind much that the Olympic experience was limited to perks. No running in a large stadium for the opening ceremony, no free tickets to see other events – that was no problem for Dunfee, the 30-year-old from Richmond, BC.

“I never lived for that, the pomp and the circus and all that,” Dunfee said.

Heck, Dunfee was heading to the Tokyo Olympics prepared not to set foot in the Tokyo Olympic Village, given that his event, the 50-kilometer walk, was moved to Sapporo, about an eight-hour drive away. north of the Japanese capital.

That said, Dunfee said there was one circumstance where he would happily take a side trip to the Olympics.

“The only way for me to be in the village is through the medal ceremony – if I win a medal, I’ll be there,” Dunfee said.

So book the high speed train, stat. A side excursion is required. After Dunfee was on the ground and seemingly out of the race for a medal with about two kilometers to go in Friday’s 50k torture test, 19 seconds behind third and battling hamstring cramps in a paralyzing heat, the Canadian mustered a late kick for a long time. looked for a place on the podium. Although television coverage of the race did not capture most of Dunfee’s key moments, he said he passed Portugal’s Joao Vieira for fourth place with less than 2 km to go before overtaking the Spaniard. Marc Tur for third place just a few hundred meters before the finish line.

Heroism at the end of the race has become a hallmark. Dunfee used a kick in the final 800 meters to win bronze at the world championships in 2019.

“I was joking, ‘One of these days the cameramen are going to learn how to stick me in the last mile,” Dunfee said.

One day Dunfee’s body seemed to betray him at times – “I kept asking for a little more and it was like ‘No’ – he found his second breath as he was in pain for the last few miles thinking to his family, his girlfriend and his late grandmother – “My girl,” Dunfee called him – the latter who always told him he had “wings” on his feet.

“For some reason, when I got to that upper turn with about 500 meters to go, I put a little more pressure on my body. And at that point my body was like, ‘OK, here’s your next gear. Go for it, “he said.” It allowed me to pick up that pace and overtake Marc Tur for third place. “

On a sweltering day when Pole Dawid Tomala slipped off the pitch to win the gold medal 36 seconds ahead of silver medalist Jonathan Hilbert of Germany, Dunfee’s triumphant charge could have been considered an offense against karmic justice.

Five years ago, Dunfee finished fourth at the Rio Olympics in a controversial race. In that race, a flurry of stretching saw Dunfee, in fourth place, overtake Japan’s Hirooki Arai, who clearly collided with Dunfee with a hip check that took the Canadian out of rhythm. Although Arai was initially disqualified, giving Dunfee the bronze medal, Japan won an appeal that put Arai back on the podium. And while Dunfee had a decent chance of winning back that medal if he had rolled the dice on a counter-appeal, he was applauded when he opted out against a new challenge and cleared the decision.

Five years later, a man of integrity whose Twitter biography self-deridedly referred to himself as a “non-Olympic medalist” could now withdraw the “no”.

“I hope that means we can stop talking about Rio,” Dunfee said.

Again, there is no way to talk about Rio.

“I love this moment because this moment gave me a huge platform,” he said after Friday’s race. “Over the past five years, I have been able to talk to 10,000 school children in my local community and talk about the value of sport and what sport has transformed me into. Growing up, I was the kid who wanted to win. I define myself by whether I won or lost. And I was kind of a hole. I was a sore loser. I was the kid who broke hockey sticks when we lost. I just defined myself by winning and losing.

He credited an incredible group of coaches, including longtime mentor Gerry Dragomir, with helping him grow both as a performing artist and as a person.

“Sport has helped me grow, learn, change and transform myself into someone who could, in Rio, say: ‘No, I don’t need a medal to validate my success'” , Dunfee said. “To be able to have this story, to have this moment that I can relate to, that I can use as a crux of explaining the trip or the sport and hopefully inspire one or two people to experience the magic of the sport, that ‘ is really cool. I will never regret this moment. It gave me so much. But definitely getting this one means a lot.

Not to say that Dunfee’s arrival was expected – a race that spans over four hours can be an unpredictable beast – but conditions have certainly worked in his favor. Although the Dunfee event, like the men’s and women’s marathons, was moved from Tokyo to Sapporo in an attempt to escape the notoriously wet conditions of the big city, ultimately neither the northern region nor the local start. 5.30am did much to alleviate the suffocation.

At the start of the race, the temperature in Sapporo was 25 ° C with 83% humidity. In Tokyo at the same time, it was 25 ° C with 90% humidity. At the end of the race, it was actually warmer in Sapporo, 31 ° C, than in Tokyo, where it was 30 ° C. For Dunfee, the difficult conditions were the recipe for a great race.

Two years ago at the world championships, after all, he had produced a groundbreaking performance for a bronze medal in a place of unbearable heat – the desert city of Doha, Qatar.

“To have it warm, to have it wet, that’s what I wanted,” he said. “It still sucks. It’s really difficult. But I know I perform well under these conditions. I stood at the start line with a smile on my face. It does not make things easier. But I just knew.

There was considerable science to Dunfee’s heatstroke strategy. During the 50 km race, he said he planned to consume around four liters of water, or about one liter per hour. On top of that, he was absorbing a lot of carbohydrates – liquid sugar, essentially, at a rate of up to 90 grams per hour. That’s more than what’s in a few cans of Coke. And indeed, Dunfee’s carefully selected mix of refueling options on Friday included flat cola, still water and other drinks.

Dunfee said ahead of the race: “The more carbohydrates you can get in there, the more strained your muscles are, the more fatigue you can avoid.”

No one avoided him like Tomala. After race leader Luo Yadong lost his pace halfway through, Tomala took the lead with around 20km to go and never really looked back. At 10 km from the end, he had increased his lead to almost three minutes. But Dunfee found himself in an excellent position among the pursuers closest to Tomala, sometimes leading the pack, sometimes allowing the others to get ahead, but never losing contact. With 7 km to go, with Tomala in the distance, his closest pursuers were five in number, with Dunfee in the thick of it.

Five walkers for two medals; for Dunfee, it looked like the race was going to go as planned. But 5 km from the finish, the Canadian started dragging Tur and Vieira. With 2 km from the finish, he was about 19 seconds away from a medal. And then somehow he found this other equipment.

Ahead of him he saw Vieira, who had beaten Dunfee to the silver line for silver at the 2019 world championships.

“I said to myself: ‘Ah, I can’t lose against Vieira anymore’. So I passed him, ”Dunfee said.

And when he realized it was Tur in third place, he said he had visions of Rio.

“My brain was like, ‘Oh come on, you can’t finish fourth anymore,'” he said.

Thanks to a brave final push, Dunfee didn’t finish fourth.

“I don’t need a medal to validate myself. I am proud of what I have accomplished today, no matter what, ”he said. “But my God, I dreamed of this moment. I have dreamed of this medal for 21 years. I’m right on the moon. I am so excited.

So book the high speed train (or maybe just take a flight). An Olympic medalist who never cared much about the pomp and circus of world sport is about to make a special exception and happily attend some special ceremony. His medal ceremony was scheduled for Saturday night at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

“Looks like I’m going to spend a night in the village. And who knows? Maybe I can persuade (Chef de Mission) Marnie (McBean) and the rest of Team Canada to let me stay for the Closing Ceremonies (Sunday), ”said Dunfee. “I would love to have this experience. That’s the icing on the cake… From a ceremonial point of view, I could miss it, but the opportunity to cheer on my teammates and be a huge fan of our Canadian athletes is a given.

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