Race walkers defy personal challenges, set expectations for Spain

This weekend in La Coruna, Spain, Canadian race walkers will look to build on historic highs achieved earlier this month in China.

May started with a massive step in the right direction for race walking in Canada. A trio of male competitors – Evan Dunfee, Inaki Gomez and Ben Thorne – finished 11th, 12th and 13th respectively at the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup. More impressively, all three bettered Gomez’ 20-kilometre Canadian record set at London 2012.Evan Dunfee

For these athletes – juggling between school and athletic ambitions – exploits in China will give them the momentum needed for a strong end to the season and a couple of big events coming up in 2015.

“Training between September and April is always tough to balance getting the mileage in and schoolwork,” Dunfee told Olympic.ca over email.

“The week leading into the race was a pretty stressful one with the last 4 exams of my undergrad but it may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I had absolutely no time to stress about the race.”

Similarly, law student Gomez has just started articling at a firm in Vancouver. The Olympian is focused on two major career goals.

“To ensure that my training does not falter,” Gomez said, “I walk from my home to the office in the mornings and then load up the volume of training during the weekends.”

That’s one of the ways Gomez is preparing for La Coruna on May 31.

Dunfee and Gomez give a glimpse into the life challenges faced by most Canadian amateur athletes, but they remain resolutely committed to their craft and making Canada proud.

In China, the Canadian men’s team finished fourth overall, a single point behind Japan. Dunfee called the outcome “agonizing” but it exceeded expectations and instilled a belief that Canada could achieve big things at the Pan American Games in Toronto and at the athletics World Championships, both taking place next year.

Inaki Gomez“With the opportunity to represent Canada (in Toronto) and the IAAF World Championships, the three of us should be focusing on aiming for the medals at those championships,” Gomez believes.

Until then, the 2014 race walking season will have to suffice for the Canadians. The discipline is not in this summer’s Commonwealth Games due to a lack of competition among member nations, but it’s global appeal and national resurgence are real. Dunfee points to Canada fielding both men’s and women’s teams at the World Cup in China – a total of eight athletes – and he observes that participation is trending younger in British Columbia and Quebec.

An advocate for his sport, Dunfee is looking to make a personal leap in Spain. He has been training in Italy alongside Olympic and World Cup medallists leading up to the race this weekend. He is well poised to finish in prize money territory if he can be top 12 in the world at the end of the year.

“I’m in a position where a good performance in La Coruna could put me in the top eight (overall),” Dunfee said.

“My strategy for the race will be to stick in with the front group and try to race from the front, in an effort to gain more experience being side by side with some of the top race walkers in the world.”

NOTE: The previous 20km Canadian race walk record of 1:20:58 held by Inaki Gomez was bettered in Taicang, China by Evan Dunfee with a time of 1:20:13, the new national record.