Yohann Diniz proved he was a worthy champion again when he walked solo - this time to a championship record at the European Race Walking Cup in Alytus, Lithuania on Sunday (19).
Neither heat - nor recent injury concerns - proved a stop to the Frenchman, 41, who was never in danger of missing out on a third title in competition history.
His pace was metronomic - 4:25 per lap - and stuck to it except for a fast finish to complete in 3:37:43 which was remarkable in the circumstances. His winning time was the third fastest of his career, bettered only by his world record of 3:32:12 which he set at the 2014 European Championships in Zurich and his championship record time of 3:33:12 from the IAAF World Championships in London two years ago.
As Diniz shaved more than three minutes off Vladimir Kanaykin's long-standing championship record, a very distant second went to Dzmitry Dziubin from Belarus who made a breakthrough leap to the podium after joining Diniz’s chasers at the 22 kilometre checkpoint. The Belarusian gradually forged a gap over the rest, walking the last 20 kilometres on his own to notch a 3:45:51 clocking - a PB by more than two minutes.
The bronze was something of another surprise on a morning of quite a few in four races. At 43, Portugal’s João Vieira prevailed to win a first 50km medal in a major competition - and nine years since he won silver in the European Championships in the 20km race walk.
In fact, it was his duel with Artur Brzozowski and Brendan Boyce that provided the race’s true excitement. For much of the second half, the three of them duelled, never more than a few seconds apart.
Irishman Boyce had to give way just after the 40 kilometre mark but he still walked to a PB - 3:48:13 for fifth - while there was a sprint between Poland’s Brzozowski and Vieira, with the Portuguese veteran edging it by four seconds.
Older still is Jesus Angel Garcia and the Spaniard, who won the inaugural edition of this event in 1996, was a creditable 15th in 3:57:51 just months away from his 50th birthday.
Garcia will still come away from Alytus with a silver medal in his hand luggage from the team race. The Ukrainians successfully defended their team crown with 26 points, comfortably ahead of Spain (43) and Belarus (49).