Commonwealth Games

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Evan Dunfee sets his pace for Olympic success

Evan Dunfee has plenty on his mind, but no regrets. At least not about the Olympic bronze medal that was briefly his in Rio.

Canadian race walker finishes 8th in 20K event in Gold Coast, teammate Thorne 4th

Canadian race walker Evan Dunfee, from Richmond, B.C., takes part in the team's training session for the Commonwealth Games on Tuesday. Dunfee went on to finish eighth in Sunday's 20-kilometre race. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

GOLD COAST, Australia — You don't need to land on the podium to feel like you've won.

Canadian race walker Evan Dunfee finished the 20-kilometre event at the Commonwealth Games in eighth-place on Sunday, registering a season-best time of one hour, 23 minutes and 26 seconds.

Dunfee came into this Games event, set along the backdrop of picturesque Currumbin Beach, knowing that the race was not his to win. 

While he's a specialist in the 50K event, the 20K is like Olympic champion long track speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen competing against short track expert Charles Hamelin.

The basics of the sport are the same, but tactics are much, much different.

"[The races have] completely different tactics — 50K is like 'find a pace and hold on for dear life' and 20K is like 'when does the sprint finish happen,'" Dunfee says. "[It] definitely changes expectations.

"When I go into a 50K race the goal is to win, whereas with these guys, there is some really top talent that specialize in the 20K distance."

All things considered, the 27-year-old was happy to join in on the action on the Gold Coast, as the sport was omitted entirely from the 2014 Glasgow Games.

Dunfee was also well aware of the strength of the 20K field, which included Rio bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith of Australia, who took gold with a new Games record time (1:19:34) as well as teammate Ben Thorne, of Kitimat, B.C., who finished fourth (1:20:49), which was also a season's best time.

"My time today was right around what the previous third-place best time was, and I finished eighth," Dunfee says. "It shows that [the Commonwealth Games] have good depth and some of the top guys in the world competing here.

Rounding into form for another shot at an Olympic medal

Dunfee, of Richmond, B.C., caught the attention of most Canadian sports fans during his gruelling 50K race at the Rio Olympics that saw him awarded a bronze medal when Japanese race walker Hirooki Arai was disqualified for elbowing Dunfee in the final minutes of the race.

Arai protested the decision and regained the medal. Dunfee declined to challenge the ruling, finishing fourth with a Canadian Olympic-best time.

He's looking for another shot at the Olympic podium and the Gold Coast was also an opportunity to test his fitness following a hamstring injury in February.

"Injury-wise, I'm 100 per cent. I tried to race end of February in Mexico and got through it injury-free but I wasn't fresh," he says.

"Hopefully I've gained that back." Now that his Commonwealth Games are over, Dunfee will be sticking around to soak up some of the Gold Coast experience.

"I'm usually done at the end, so it'll be nice to relax a little bit and go watch some other sports, watch the guys on the track win some medals," he says. "The focus will still be training...just got to make sure I'm smart and don't get too carried away with the [athletes] village food."

Dunfee will also keep busy with volunteer work once he gets back home, thanks to sponsors who've stepped up to allow him the time to train and not spend his free time working part time to make ends meet.

"We had an athlete that had to collect bottles before she came here to pay her rent. That's just the life of amateur-professional track and field athletes," Dunfee says. "I'm really lucky, [sponsor] Teck Resources support me so well that I can use my free time outside of when I train to really give back to the community. And spend that time I would have to spend working part time, I can spend that in the community doing volunteer work."

Dunfee works with KidSport, a non-profit organization that helps kids get into sport, and was awarded their community champion award while he was training in Australia.

"I really enjoy that stuff, giving back to the community and making sure we're promoting everything we stand for out in the field and make sure were promoting it off the field as well."

The race walker's next target on the field of play is training for the world championships next month in China, where Dunfee will continue his attempt to round into Olympic form for Tokyo 2020.

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