Havard Haukenes scored what must be regarded as the biggest win of his career to date at the 36th staging of the famous race walking event in Dudince - the Dudinska 50 - on Saturday afternoon.
Haukenes finished fourth in this race last year but the Norwegian is improving with every race at the 50km distance. His performance in the Slovakian town twelve months ago was a precursor to a seventh-place finish in the Olympic Games - by far his best placing in a major event - and the 26-year-old made another big improvement on Saturday, setting a world-leading mark and lifetime best of 3:43:40.
"It was very special for me today, mainly because many big champions have won here before and also it is my first win at 50km distance," he told reporters after the event.
Haukenes had the beating of a good field with reigning champion Rafal Augustyn from Poland having to settle for second in 3:44:42 with Mexico’s Pedro Gomez making up the podium in third with 3:48:04. In total, 12 walkers broke the four hour-mark while 14 athletes ducked below the World Championships qualifying mark of 4:06.
History was also made as Agnieszka Ellward became the first woman to complete the 50km distance in event history. The Pole covered the distance in 4:52:56.
While the 50km walk took centre stage in Dudince, there were also 20km races on the programme. Lithuania’s Gennadiy Kozlovskis won the men’s event in 1:24:48 while his compatriot Zivile Vaiciukeviciute won the women’s race in a national U23 record of 1:33:23.
Slovakian hero Matej Toth did not take to the course on this occasion as the reigning world and Olympic champion has only just resumed training after surgery but he did fire the starting gun for this year’s race. He is aiming to be in top shape for his world title defence in London this August.