Aleksandr Ivanov gave hosts Russia their first gold of the world athletics championships on Sunday and the country’s third successive title in the 20 kilometres walk.
The 20-year-old timed 1hr 20min 58sec as he crossed the line to roars of delight from the crowd, ahead of China’s Olympic champion Chen Ding (1hr 21min 09sec) while Spaniard Miguel Lopez, fifth in the Olympics, took bronze (1hr 21min 21sec).
Japanese youngster Takuma Saito set the early pace once the field had left the stadium, opening a significant gap on a group of three, who were themselves clear of the main pack.
Saito’s more experienced team-mate, the Asian champion Yusuke Suzuki gave chase and had reduced the gap to just two seconds at the 5km mark, while the main pack was 13sec adrift.
Suzuki joined and passed Saito soon afterwards with the latter a spent force, although his efforts had not been in vain in ensuring he set an early pace to meet his more senior colleague’s demands.
Suzuki, 25, held a 13sec lead at the halfway mark but faced a daunting final 10km as a sextet, which included the first three from last year’s Olympics, China’s Olympic champion Chen Ding, their bronze medallist Wang Zhen and Guatemala’s silver medallist Erick Barrondo closed on him.
The game was up soon afterwards as Suzuki was caught.
Wang then went out in front but his dreams of taking gold this time were dashed as he received a third and final warning, though he appeared to be unaware of it and carried on until finally being forced to leave the fray.
Chen and Barrondo took up the pace along with Ivanov and established a lead of 22sec over a group of four, but Barrondo was flirting with disaster as he received two warnings in quick succession.
The trio were still clear with 5km to go, but shortly after that Ivanov made his move provoking loud cheers from the spectators but became more cautious when he got a warning.
Barrondo refused to be shaken off and the 22-year-old – who gave Guatemala their first Olympic medal last year – was within striking range of Ivanov with 3km to go.
However, the drama endured till the end as Barrondo, having passed Ivanov, was called for a third foul and to his disbelief was told to pull up.
Chen didn’t improve Barrondo’s humour by raising his arm in delight as he passed the Guatemalan at the prospect of being now assured of silver, but the Russian was oblivious to all this as he strolled to gold.