This time last year, Ruslan Dmytrenko finished second at the Memorial Mario Albisetti in Lugano but now he can celebrate even more - as the champion.
On Sunday 16 March, Ukrainian Dmytrenko won this European Athletics Race Walking Permit Meeting to show that he will be among the medal contenders at this summer’s European Athletics Championships in Zurich.
Dmytrenko produced the best performance of his career over the 20km distance as he won in 1:20:08 to beat Cai Zhelin, of China, who was second in 1:20:31 with Slovakia’s Matej Toth in third in 1:20:42.
This victory demonstrates the level of progression for Dmytrenko, who turns 28 this week, compared with the Olympic Games in London in 2012 when he finished only 30th in 1:23:21.
But after being seventh at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow last summer in 1:22:14, Dmytrenko now has this personal best time to carry him towards Zurich.
The race was packed with medal winners - as Australian Jared Tallent, who won Olympic bronze over this distance in Beijing in 2008, was fourth in 1:20:55 and Ireland’s 50km World champion Robert Heffernan was fifth in 1:20:57.
As the sun shone in this picturesque setting in Switzerland, it became a duel between Dmytrenko and Cai after they broke away from the pack of eight in the second half of the race.
The Ukrainian eventually moved ahead with a kilometre to go, breaking his previous fastest time by nine seconds and thriving on the outcome - and the conditions.
Speaking to the IAAF, he said: "I am very happy with my personal best on a nice course. I enjoyed walking in sunny weather."
The women’s race had an impressive outcome for Europe, too, even though it was won by Liu Hong, the 2011 20km World silver medallist and double World bronze medallist.
As Hong triumphed in 1:27:25, the quickest time in the world this year, Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi was second in a personal best of 1:27:29 with Czechoslovakia’s Anezka Drahotova, still only 18, breaking the national senior record in 1:28:13. There was a Polish record for Agnieszka Dygacz in fourth in 1:29:08 and a lifetime best for Lyudmyla Olyanovska, of the Ukraine, who was fifth in 1:29:26.
Giorgi was beaten by the final, powerful surge of her Chinese rival and set her sights on the European Athletics Championships where it seems more than just speed will be on her side.
She told the IAAF: “My race in Zurich is scheduled on August 14th. Fourteen is my favourite number as I was born on September 14th, 1989 and I finished 14th at the Olympic Games in London.”