He didn’t give up.
Race walking is the Olympic sport everyone loves to make fun of. And why not? Just the name of the event sounds oxymoronic. Plus, the competitors sure look goofy as they wiggle their hips and swing their arms while moving at less-than-breakneck speeds. But Friday’s men’s 50km (31-mile) race gave us one of the most inspiring performances of these Olympics.
The race was the final edition of the 50km at the Olympics. While men and women will compete in the 20km walk in Paris in 2024, the 50km is being dropped from the program in the name of gender equality. (Women don’t compete in the 50km and rather than adding a women’s race at that distance, organizers are scrapping it altogether.) That means Poland’s Dawid Tomala will (likely) go down in history as the final Olympic champion in the 50km, with a time of 3:50:08. While Tomala’s name will go down in the record books, the last man to cross the finish line in the 50km also deserves to be remembered.
Ecuador’s Claudio Villanueva Flores finished dead last in Friday’s race (4:53:09), more than an hour behind Tomala and 20 minutes behind his next closest competitor. But his determination to reach the finish line made for a powerful scene. He received a hearty round of applause and cheers from the small group of spectators and broke down in tears as he crossed the line. Race organizers offered to take him away in a wheelchair after he fell to his knees, but Flores refused.
Dropping out of the 50km is nothing to be ashamed of. Ten of the 59 walkers who entered the race did not finish, including world record holder Yohann Diniz of France. Walking seven miles more than a marathon in under five hours is a daunting task. No one could have begrudged Flores if he decided to bow out, but he persevered and produced one of the lasting images of the Tokyo Games.
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