Victorian Institute of Sport athlete Chris Erickson (Vic.) has come from behind to take out the Australian men’s 50km Road Walking Championship at Melbourne’s Fawkner Park today, effectively ensuring his selection for the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing (CHN).
Erickson trailed visiting international Evan Dunfee (CAN) for most of the race before surging to the lead with less than four kilometres to go and going on to win by almost two minutes.
The 33-year-old Victorian crossed the finish line in a time of 3:56:38, ahead of Dunfee in second with 3:58:34 and Brendon Reading (ACT) third in 4:19:30 in his debut at the 50km distance.
A field of six athletes lined up for the event, including triple Olympic medallist Jared Tallent (SA). The hot early conditions made the race a war of attrition however and Tallent was forced to pull out after encountering stomach problems and vomiting shortly after the 18km mark. Dual Olympian Adam Rutter (NSW) and veteran athlete Andrew Jamieson (Vic.) both also dropped out of the race not long after, leaving the battle for the placings between Dunfee, Erickson and Reading.
The Canadian made the early running and reached the 20km mark in 1:32.00, with a sizeable lead having opened up over Erickson, with Reading further back.
By the 40km mark, Dunfee (3:04:45) still had more than four minutes on Erickson (3:08:46) but the Canadian had started to tire noticeably.
Erickson finally made his move shortly after and rapidly made inroads into Dunfee’s lead. Six kilometres later, the Australian trailed by just 10 seconds when the leader passed the 46km mark in a time of 3:37:10. Not long afterwards Erickson took the lead for good as he passed the struggling international and quickly built up a solid buffer of his own.
By that time Dunfee, who had been eyeing off the Canadian record midway through the race, was spent and could not mount a comeback, leaving Erickson to cross the line and claim his third 50km walks national crown. He previously won the national title at the distance in 2004 and 2008.
The win, coupled with his previous 11th placing at the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in May in a time of 3:49:33 that bettered both the IAAF qualifying standard and the Athletics Australia additional guideline, effectively assures Erickson of a place on the Australian Flame team for the 2015 IAAF World Championships.
Erickson said he concentrated on his own pacing during the race rather than worrying about Dunfee’s early break.
“We had a fairly steady start and then between about 6km and 8km we went 9:05 or something like that and I thought it was a little too fast for me at that stage,” Erickson said. “I thought the conditions were quite tough early and I thought they were too tough to start doing that, so I sort of let him go and settled back into my rhythm of 9:20s. I was just sort of holding that comfortably but I sort of got in a rough spot after about 35 km and started to slow.
“Then conditions started to swing around a bit and it got a lot cooler. I got a second wind at about 40km and started to feel really good and then at that same time I realised that he was starting to struggle. I think courtesy of him having a bright orange shirt he was like a beacon in front of me and I could see him coming back (to me). I went a 10 minute lap and then the next one was 9:30 and then a couple of 9:20s. I was really reeling him in and I knew I had him at that stage.”
Erickson now plans to refocus on the 20km event ahead of the official trial at that distance in late February so that he can attempt to qualify in both events for the IAAF World Championships next year.
Meanwhile, in the women’s Open 20km invitational race walk at Fawkner Park, 2012 London Olympian Beki Smith (formerly Lee) of New South Wales won the event in a time of 1:35:37, bettering the IAAF standard for the World Championships of 1:36:00.