Alvaro Martin, from Spain became the first gold medallist of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 when strode to victory in the men’s 20km walk in a 1:17:32 on Saturday morning.
The two-time reigning European champion had not made the podium in five previous world championships and three Olympic Games outings but put all his previous disappointments on the global stage behind him with a perfectly executed performance that appropriately finished in Heroes' Square.
Martin resisted going with the early pace set by Japan’s Koji Ikeda and was part of a pack of ten walkers who were 21 seconds behind Ikeda, with two others also in front of them.
However, the Spaniard went to the front of this group in the 14th kilometre and started to close the gap on Ikeda before changing gear, dropping in a 3:43 kilometre for the 15th kilometre and pulling away from his rivals before overtaking Ikeda just after the 15km checkpoint, which was passed in 58:17.
From that point it was just a case of Martin gritting his teeth and focussing on maintaining his fast pace.
The man from Badajoz - who will go for his second gold medal in the 35km race walk on Thursday morning, the distance at which he won at the European Race Walking Team Championships in May - ticked off five successive final kilometres of 3:48, 3:51, 3:51, 3:50, 3:55 to finish in the second fastest time in World Athletics Championships history and just 11 seconds adrift of the championship record.
From the stands in Heroes' Square, he was cheered home by a delighted contingent of his compatriots inclding several members of his family, the newly-elected World Athletics Vice President and European Athletics Council Member Raul Chapado and the 1993 50km race walk world champion Jesus Angel Garcia.
Martin became the first European winner in this event since his fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Lopez won in 2015 and only the second European winner in the last 20 years.
"I was fourth at the last Olympic Games and missed the bronze [in the 20km race walk by 18 seconds] which motivated me to work hard. This gold medal is next step towards the next Olympic Games. I had an amazing race today, I did not expect to finish this fast," reflected the Spanish gold medallist.
"I watched previous championships [in 2015] when Miguel Angel Lopez won and I cried a lot, I was really happy for him. I did the same now, and I'm crying out of happiness. I am really happy and I do not have words to express it. Huge thanks goes to my coach and my girlfriend. This is a medal for the team. Actually, my whole family came here to support me," said Martin.
The race start was delayed by two hours due to thunderstorms over the Hungarian capital, but the cooler and less humid conditions almost certainly helped produce fast times for many walkers.
Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom, the bronze medallist at the last two editions of the world championships, upgraded his place on the podium to silver with a flying last kilometre which saw him overtake Brazil’s Caio Bonfim and cross the line in a Swedish record of 1:17:39.
National records also fell to Germany’s Christopher Linke and Finland’s Veli-Matti Partanen, who finished fifth and sixth respectively in 1:18:12 and 1:18:22.
World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 full results and timetable can be found here.
Phil Minshull for European Athletics