Evan Dunfee loses bronze on Japanese appeal in 50km race walk

Race walker Evan Dunfee appeared to have collected a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics on Friday morning but was bumped from the third-place position after a Japanese appeal was upheld, according to Athletics Canada.

Canadian athlete bumped from podium, places 4th

By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports

Race walker Evan Dunfee appeared to have collected a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics on Friday morning but was bumped from the third-place position after a Japanese appeal was upheld, according to Athletics Canada.

In the final two kilometres of the 50km race, Dunfee lost stride after Hirooki Arai of Japan bumped him during a collision and went on to cross the finish line third, in a time of three hours 41 minutes 24 seconds — 14 seconds ahead of Dunfee, who improved his Canadian record time to 3:41:38. 

Athletics Canada appealed the result post-race, and Dunfee was awarded the bronze. But shortly thereafter, Japan successfully countered the appeal and had the decision reversed, to give Arai the bronze medal. 

Athletics Canada head coach Peter Eriksson told CBC News that it was considering options following Japan's successful appeal but said Dunfee doesn't want to proceed any further.

"I had the option to appeal to CAS [the Court of Arbitration for Sport] and to me, I couldn't have honestly and appropriately gone a step further," said Dunfee.

"He [Arai] was in the same world of hurt [as me]. He brushed my shoulder.  I'm an aggressive walker and maybe I leaned into him. When I finally watched the video, I couldn't say to myself that [there was intent on his part].

"I had to ask myself, if I got this medal, would I be proud of it … and be able to sleep at night," Dunfee added. "I came to the decision I was so proud of my race and that I couldn't honestly take away from him what he did."

Dunfee's previous best of 3:43:45 was set last December at the Australian Road Walking Championships in Melbourne.

"​Not many people can understand the pain athletes are in three and a half hours into such a grueling race," Dunfee said in a statement. "Contact is part of our event, whether written or unwritten and is quite common, and I don't believe that this was malicious or done with intent."

"Even if an appeal to CAS were successful I would not have been able to receive that medal with a clear conscience and it isn't something I would have been proud of."

Dunfee's dad, Don, said his son would have taken a fourth-place finish if offered on Thursday night.

"Fourth is certainly not a letdown," Don posted to his Twitter account. "Leading the Olympic 50k at 35k is an accomplishment that will contribute to [Evan] being more competitive in the future."

Reigning world champion Matej Toth of Slovakia won gold with a time of 3:40:58, while Jared Tallent of Australia collected his fourth Olympic medal in racing in a season-best 3:41:16.

Dunfee, who had a happy support group on hand in Don and his wife, Evan's mom Karen, nearly lost his footing crossing the finish line and received immediate medical attention.

Dunfee, who recently started working with a psychologist to help the mental side of his game, appeared in distress over the final kilometre on a warm day in Rio and wobbled near the finish but managed to stay on his feet.

The 25-year-old from Richmond, B.C., led for nearly 10 kilometres before Toth passed him just shy of the 39-kilometre mark. Toth was then overtaken by Tallent and Arai. Tallent then took over and was in front on his own before Toth made a late charge for the victory.

France's Diniz in distress

Competing in just his fifth race at this distance, Dunfee was fourth at the 40-kilometre mark, seven seconds behind Tallent, who increased his margin on the Canadian to 41 seconds five kilometres later.

Shortly after the 30-kilometre mark, a fresh-looking Dunfee opened up a gap on those behind him and trimmed Frenchman Yohann Diniz's lead to 88 seconds, but that quickly changed.

Diniz, who failed to finish the walk at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was disqualified four years ago in the London competition, stopped about 33 kilometres into the race, rubbing and watering his thighs at the side of the street.

When Dunfee met him, the Canadian gave Diniz a pat on the back with his right hand and they walked alongside one another for a stretch before Dunfee pulled ahead.

"We were proud of the way he handled everything today, including encouraging the great Yohann Diniz when he was experiencing a bad patch," Don Dunfee tweeted. "Each [of Evan's coaches] has contributed to his understanding of sportsmanship, to the point where I think that this performance at the Olympics exemplifies the Olympic spirit."

Diniz later collapsed at the side of the road as he approached the 38-kilometre mark but quickly returned to the race and finished eighth in 3:46:43. Reports indicated that Diniz was suffering from stomach problems that caused the French athlete severe discomfort during the race.

Dunfee was eager to show his ability in the 50-kilometre race after finishing as the top Canadian in the 20-kilometre Olympic race walk a week ago.

Dunfee, who graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2014 with a bachelor in kinesiology, won a gold medal in the 20-kilometre race at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.