Canadian race-walker Evan Dunfee has more on his mind than a medal

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

Richmond, B.C., native uses platform to encourage fitness amongst youth, defend sport

Evan Dunfee's most important goal is to help reduce obesity in children while increasing fitness. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

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

The 27-year-old race-walker from Richmond, B.C., makes a point of talking to kids, especially via KidSport whose goal is to get more youngsters into sport. And his roller-coaster ride in Rio has given him an even bigger platform.

"Those doors that were opened up through Rio, it's totally worth way more than any medal would have been worth," said Dunfee, a gangly ginger who kicks off the Commonwealth Games athletics program on Sunday in the 20-kilometre race walk.

He says while he still wants to be the best in the world at his sport, a more important goal is to help reduce obesity in children while increasing fitness.

"I take way more pride in that outcome than I would in an Olympic gold medal," he said.

Canada's best-ever Olympic result

Dunfee was elevated to the Olympic podium in 2016 when third-place finisher Hirooki Arai of Japan was disqualified for elbowing him in the final minutes of the 50-kilometre race walk. Arai protested the decision and regained the medal.

Dunfee, who was leading the field at the 35-kilometre mark, elected not to pursue the matter further. He remained fourth in three hours 41 minutes 38 seconds, breaking his own Canadian record of 3:43:45. It marked Canada's best-ever Olympic result in the event.

Arai and Dunfee subsequently got to train together and have kept up with each other via social media.

"Race-walking's a tight-knit community. Everyone sort of gets along," Dunfee said. "It works out for the best for us."

New targets

Dunfee has other targets these day.

He challenged Commonwealth Games organizers after they dropped the race walk from the 2014 Games schedule. And he has spoken out in defence of his beloved 50-kilometre race, which faced the axe at the Olympics (the International Association of Athletics Federation eventually voted to keep it for at least the 2020 Games).

"I'm not under any false illusions what race-walking is," he said. "I understand where our place is. My argument is that I think that is a valuable place. I understand that we're on the fringes of athletics and we're the weirdos. But I do think race-walking has a lot to offer to the IOC, to the Olympics — us and the marathon, road cycling, triathlon, being the free events.

"I think that has a lot to offer when you try and sell a city on hosting the Olympics. [If] you're a family of six, you can't afford to go watch Andre De Grasse run the 100-metre final. It's just not accessible to you. So to be able to have these free events, where anyone can come out to take part in that Olympic movement, I think that's valuable."

No confidence in IOC

He is also blunt on the subject of the International Olympic Committee, saying he has no confidence "that the reasons the athletes are competing are the same reasons the IOC is putting the event on.

"Hopefully things can begin to change and we can right the ship and get things back on track," he said, citing Canadians like Becky Scott and former race-walker Inaki Gomez who are doing their bit to help the reform.

And don't get him started on Russian race-walkers.

The Commonwealth Games restored the 20-kilometre walk for the Gold Coast Games. And while it's not Dunfee's signature event, he's happy to showcase his sport.

The physical toll that the Rio race took on Dunfee and other athletes turned more than a few heads. And Dunfee likely won over more than a few converts last year when he race-walked the BMO Vancouver Marathon in 3:10:34, beating all but 132 runners.

Uneven playing field

He savours the challenges of the 50-kilometre distance, saying its gruelling nature can work in his favour. While others may have the edge on him physically, Dunfee believes his preparation and ability to adapt to the conditions help him make up the gap.

He says the playing field is not as level for him in the 20K. He finished sixth over the distance at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, 10th in Rio and won at the 2015 Pan American Games.

Dunfee points to Australian Dane Bird-Smith, bronze medallist over 20 kilometres in Rio, England's Tom Bosworth (sixth in Rio) and South Africa's Lebogang Shange (fourth at the 2017 world championships) as top contenders here as well as Canadian teammate Ben Thorne, a bronze medallist at the 2015 worlds.

As for Dunfee, he is coming back from a minor hamstring tear suffered in Adelaide in February in his first race of the year. The injury is now healed, but he says he has yet to return to top form.

He will be competing in the 50K in the world team championship in China in May.


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