Olympics: Japan wins silver, bronze in men's 20 km race walk

Japan's Koki Ikeda (C) competes in the men's 20-kilometer race walk at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug. 5, 2021, in Sapporo, northern Japan. (Kyodo)

Japan’s Koki Ikeda won the silver medal in the men’s 20-kilometer race walk at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday, while his countryman and reigning world champion Toshikazu Yamanishi settled for bronze.

Underdog Massimo Stano of Italy snatched the gold with a blistering last spurt that carried him over the finish line in Sapporo Odori Park in 1 hour, 21 minutes, 5 seconds.

Ikeda and Yamanishi won Japan’s 42nd and 43rd medals of the Tokyo Olympics, pushing the tally above the 41 it won in Rio de Janeiro for the country’s all-time high at a single games, summer or winter.

China’s Wang Kaihua pulled ahead early but the pack did not immediately give chase, opting to stay behind and conserve stamina. The race appeared wide open past the halfway point as a now thinned-out group caught up to Wang.

Stano, ranked 9th in the world, pulled ahead with a few kilometers to go with a surprising vigor despite the summer heat, fending off the two Japanese to win his first international competition ever.

“It is unbelievable. I haven’t woken up yet. It is a dream but in the last two months I repeated in my head, ‘I am the strongest, I am the strongest, I am the strongest,’ and today I did it. I am the strongest,” he said.

The race walking and marathon events were moved to Sapporo, about 830 km to the north of Tokyo, due to concerns over dangerously high temperatures and humidity in the capital.

Heat was still a factor with the mercury above 30 C as the race got going, but Ikeda said he expected conditions to be tough and had prepared accordingly.

“I did feel it until just before the halfway point, but this is exactly what I’d been getting ready for this past year. And the conditions are the same for everyone, so I wasn’t really worried about it,” he said.

World No. 1 Yamanishi, the pre-competition favorite, said he should have used his stamina more efficiently and been more decisive about when to pick up the pace.

“I was too much like, should I pursue or shouldn’t I? I failed to achieve my goal of winning the gold, so I guess that means there was something lacking in my training and everything I did leading up to today,” he said.

Ikeda’s silver medal is Japan’s best result in a race walking event at an Olympics, bettering the bronze Hirooki Arai took in the men’s 50 km in Rio.

“I’ve lost so many times to Yamanishi and really worked on keeping up with his spurts, and that really bore fruit on this big stage,” Ikeda said.