Competing in his eleventh successive edition of the IAAF World Athletics Championships, Portugal’s Joao Vieira overcame the brutal conditions to become the oldest medallist in championship history with silver in the 50km race walk.
Now 43, Vieira drew on his vast experience as he moved from 13th at the halfway point before making excellent progress in the latter stages, picking up athletes who were beginning to feel the effects of a race which began at 11.30pm local time in stifling heat and humidity.
Vieira moved into the silver medal position on the last circuit and the Portuguese even had the long-time leader Yusuke Suzuki from Japan in his sights. Suzuki was beginning to succumb to the conditions - often slowing to a regular walking pace - but the Japanese held on for the title in 4:04:20 with Vieira taking the biggest medal of his career thus far with silver in 4:04:59.
“This is the best medal of my athletics career in the hardest race I have ever done across all of my 11 World Championships appearances,” he said. “A lot of people did not believe I could ever get this far, but I never stopped dreaming.”
His finishing time was by far his slowest to date but with it came the first global medal of his international career which dates back to the 1998 European Championships. He has two silver medals in the 20km race walk from the European Championships and he also stands in line to receive a bronze medal at the same distance from the 2013 World Championships due to the suspension of Aleksandr Ivanov for biological passport abnormalities.
Retirement is by no means on the agenda for Vieira who will take some time off before resuming preparations for a prospective sixth Olympic appearance in Tokyo next summer. He also hasn't ruled out making a 12th appearance at the 2021 World Championships in Eugene. "It was my intention to finish at the Tokyo Olympics but I will consider making one more world, to add 12 to the curriculum," he said.
But Vieira was by no means the oldest athlete in the race. Competing in his record 13th edition of the World Championships, Spain’s Jesus Angel Garcia - who won this title all the way back in Stuttgart in 1993 - rallied to an eighth-place finish in 4:11:28, his seventh top eight finish at the World Championships.
Notable non-finishers included reigning champion and world record-holder Yohann Diniz in France and Olympic champion Matej Toth from Slovakia.
There was another European medal in the women's 50km race walk. European record-holder Eleonora Giorgi won bronze in 4:29:13 behind the Chinese duo of Liang Rui (4:23:36) and Li Maocuo (4:26:40).
Ines Henriques from Portugal suffered the same fate as Diniz with the reigning champion, withdrawing from the race shortly after the 35km checkpoint.
Steven Mills for European Athletics