Yohann Diniz has won three European titles in the 50km walk but things have seldom gone right for the Frenchman at the World Championships or Olympic Games. His luck changed on a warm and sunny morning on The Mall last Sunday when Diniz produced one of the most assured displays of the championships to secure the title.
It was a brilliant championships for Diniz and a fantastic one for France who claimed three gold medals across the programme - and five in total. Pierre-Ambroise Bosse opened the title haul with a surprise win in the 800m before Kevin Mayer doubled the tally in the decathlon the night before Diniz won the 50km walk.
“I kept away from watching the television because I did not want to get too excited. I went to bed at nine o’clock because I knew it was going to be my day. Three gold medals for France. I don't think that has ever happened before,” he said.
Diniz set a championship record of 3:33:12 - the second fastest time in history after his world record of 3:32:33 set at the European Championships in Zurich three years ago - and his winning margin stretched out to beyond eight minutes. Despite his brilliant credentials, this performance was largely unexpected as it came at the end of a tumultuous twelve months which saw Diniz push himself beyond exhaustion at the Olympics before a car accident forced him out of commission earlier this season.
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“I need to thank the doctor of the federation who helped me a lot. It was quite difficult already for me recovering from Rio, then I suffered broken ribs in a car accident but I didn’t give up,” said Diniz on his preparations. “I was riding a bike up to 180 kilometres each week until the end of May. It was only in June when I was able to start walking again.”
Diniz turns 40 on 1 January but retirement certainly does not beckon for the world record-holder who become the oldest male athlete to win a gold medal in World Championships history. “I am still missing one (title) and that is the Olympic one. It would be a nice way to finish in Tokyo," said Diniz.
The road to Tokyo will pass through Berlin for next summer’s European Championships but having already ensconced himself in championship folklore by claiming an unparalleled hat-trick of titles in the 50km walk, Diniz is considering a new challenge in the German capital next August.
“I have already won an unprecedented three titles at the European Championships at 50km. It’s a little bit early to start talking about a fourth title - also because I want to preserve myself for the next events, perhaps even up to the next Olympics. What I may do is go back to the 20km walk because I still have a lot of speed,” said Diniz, whose lifetime best of 1:17:02 from 2015 makes him the third fastest race walker in history.
History was also made on The Mall on Sunday as the women took part in the 50km for the very first time, a move which Diniz described as “good for race walking.”
“This is a very good move and I encourage the women today; there was a world record for Ines [Henriques] so I think this is a very good first time,” he said. “For the next edition, I think we need more women on the start-line but I’m sure a lot of them will step up and more countries will enter women in the 50km. It’s a little bit like the marathon - it started a little bit slow but it’s good they are here and it’s good for race walking.”