Korzeniowski walks tall
Four years earlier in Sydney, Poland’s Robert Korzeniowski had become the most celebrated race walker in Olympic history after winning both the 20km and 50km titles. It was the first time anyone had done the double, and also the first time that anyone had won the 50km title twice (Korzeniowski had also won the longer event at Atlanta 19960). Now he was intent on recording another first by winning a third consecutive 50km title at the age of 36.
Most observers considered him the favourite, with the only question marks being caused by his age; could a man in the latter part of his fourth decade really win an Olympic title over 50km?
Korzeniowski had developed a passion for sport while recovering from a childhood illness. He first discovered race walking when he in his early teens. His first love had actually been martial arts, but when his gym was shut down he turned his attention completely towards athletics.
Korzeniowski’s dominance of his sport had grown progressively over the preceding decade. At Atlanta 1996, he took gold by a margin of 16 seconds; four years later he extended the winning margin to a massive 1 minute 18 seconds. I seemed impossible that he could produce such a dominant performance again, but then Korzeniowski was the sort of sportsman who thrived on proving people wrong.
At the 30km in Athens, the Pole was 30 seconds clear of Russia's Denis Nizhegorodov and he then proceeded to extend his lead. Nizhegorodov was competing with fellow Russian Aleksei Voyevodin and China’s Yu Chaohong for silver and bronze, because there was already little doubt that the gold was again going to Korzeniowski.
He crossed the line in 3 hours 38 minutes 46 seconds, a minute outside the world record but an astonishing four minutes ahead of Nizhegorodov, who collapsed from exhaustion as he crossed the line. Voyevodin beat Yu to take bronze.