Diniz: “I have two more 50km races and then I will retire for sure”

Yohann Diniz
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Yohann Diniz is planning to defend his 50km race walk title at the IAAF World Championships in Doha this September

After winning the European Race Walking Cup in Alytus on 19 May in a championship record of 3:37:43, the big news from Yohann Diniz is there are two more 50km races in his career - and that’s it.

The Frenchman has no intention of becoming the force of nature that is his contemporary Jesus Angel Garcia from Spain who continues to defy the odds as well as Father Time by walking well under four hours as he did in Alytus at age 49.

Diniz will line up for the 50km nudging midnight on 28 September at the IAAF World Championships in Doha before bowing out altogether at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo - hopefully on a better note than in Rio de Janeiro four years earlier when illness wrecked his campaign for a medal. 

By Tokyo, he will be just five months short of his 43rd birthday and while it is not out of the question that Diniz could challenge for medals in big events over the course of the next decade (the third-placer in Alytus Joao Vieira from Portugal is 43), the world record-holder has designs to go out on top. 

There were question marks over whether he had recovered from fatigue fractures that denied him a European Championship appearance in 2018 but Diniz emphatically answered them all around the one kilometre loop in Alytus. 

In fact, the nearest anyone got to the multi-medallist was on the start line. 

From the gun, Diniz forged to the front, and by the five kilometre mark, he was 53 seconds ahead of his nearest pursuers. Thereafter, his metronomic head and legs reeled off five kilometre splits between 21:14 and 21:40. 

If that seems a wide-ish margin, the explanation was evident to all spectators and watchers on the live feed. Diniz had to endure two toilet stops but unlike the Olympic Games three years ago, this time he was able to dive into portable cabins on the side of the tree-lined road.

Even though the IAAF World Championships brings a phalanx of Japanese and Chinese race walkers ready to stamp on his heels in Doha, Diniz nonetheless shot to the top of the 2019 list in Alytus and it won’t do prospective challengers any good to learn his pace was deliberately slower than might have been gambled without the enforced injury break. 

“I had discussed with my coach and preferred to slow down in Alytus,” said Diniz after the race. 

“I know my opponents are willing to play second place and expect a failure on my part. So, you have to work mentally on it and trust your experience. As I get older, I get wiser - and at this rate, I should be ready for the perfect race at the 2036 Olympics!"

However, there is always a doubt over the head of the man from Reims when he lines up for the longer effort. He has succumbed in all three prior Olympic appearances so far, although he did manage to muster up an eighth-place in Rio de Janeiro despite collapsing on at least two occasions in the last fifteen kilometres. 

But in the black-and-white world of Diniz, there is a gold medal from the World Championships in 2017, three from the European Championships - the latter in 2014 producing a current 3:32:33 world record; and a hat-trick of European Cup wins, the first in 2007 over 20km.

Feast or famine, it was hardly surprising Diniz admitted a dose of nerves on the Alytus start line. “I was pleased with the race,” he said. “But on the day, I felt a stress about the effort that was coming, the event - I had a ball in the stomach. 

“I had not raced for nearly two years, so I was lacking reference points and sensations in my body. I felt stiff to start with and picked up a disqualification card very early on. 

“It took me 20km to relax, but considering May brings the first high temperatures of the year, I am pleased with how it went. It felt really hot, but by August you are used to the heat.”

Dealing with the conditions was helped by a hyperthermic chamber back in Reims where the heat was literally turned up to aid acclimatisation. Barely a minute after he finished, Diniz was joking with teammates and media, and even asked one Russian journalist if he had brought any restorative vodka. 

But the French champion’s bonhomie belied an effort that was hard and long, and Diniz revealed the end of a stellar career is in sight. He heads to Font Romeu in the Pyrénées for more altitude training between 10 July and 10 August, and then back to Reims for final preparations ahead of Doha.

“I have two more 50km races as goals, and then I will retire for sure,” he said. 

“In Alytus I felt fine and it was also great I have qualified for Tokyo ahead of the 3.44:00 qualifying time, so all is well and I am savouring every moment and really, really enjoying it.

“I hope there are a couple more to come.”