Message to Russia from race walking's new Olympic champion: You'd be welcomed back, but dope-free.
After victory in the longest athletics event at the Rio Games, the men's 50-kilometer race walk, Matej Toth of Slovakia said Russia deserved the ban that kept all its track and field athletes, bar a long jumper who failed to medal, out of the Olympics because of systematic, state-sanctioned doping.
But Slovakia's first ever medalist of any color in athletics also said he hopes Russia will earn its way back into the sport's graces "very soon." Russia's walkers could be "very good" without doping, Toth said, "The only question is when they will be able to realize it — that we can do it without doping."
"Now it's up to Russian athletics, it's up to race walkers, to change their mind," said Toth, who added the Olympic gold to his 2015 world title.
With a late surge, Toth pushed Jared Tallent into the silver-medal spot. The Australian's consolation was that at least this time he wasn't second behind a Russian dope cheat, as was the case at the 2012 London Olympics — a stolen gold medal subsequently redistributed to Tallent nearly four years late.
Unwelcome this time, the Russians weren't missed on Friday. Race walking was among the most tainted of Russian sports.
"They deserved this punishment, especially in race walking, there (are) many, many athletes with positive tests," Toth said.
He blew a kiss at the camera and picked up a Slovakian flag from a bystander to drape across his shoulders before crossing the line in 3 hours, 40:58 minutes.
As in London, Tallent won't get to experience the glory of standing atop the Olympic medal podium. Last time, he was deprived of that pleasure by Russian doper Sergei Kirdyapkin, subsequently disqualified. This time, Tallent said he has no qualms.
"We're going to have a clean podium again," Tallent said. "Very different to London; there's no suspicions this time around."
He finished in 3:41:16 for his fourth Olympic medal — one gold, now two silvers and one bronze — from three games.
Behind them, Hirooki Arai of Japan crossed the line in third place ahead of Evan Dunfee. Dunfee was initially bumped to bronze after Arai was disqualified for elbowing the Canadian when overtaking him. But Arai's appeal was successful and the bronze was reinstated.
Dunfee said even if he subsequently appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and was successful he "would not have been able to receive that medal with a clear conscience."
"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," Dunfee said in a statement.
World record holder Yohann Diniz of France initially undulated to what looked like a commanding lead.
But the high school sports coach was then stricken by stomach problems, even keeling over at one point in the heat and scorching sun before continuing, his legs wobbling like cooked spaghetti at times. He persevered to a gritty seventh place.
With 10K remaining, Tallent had a narrow lead and looked comfortable. A karmic victory seemed within reach, payback after the bitterness of London and other races where drug cheats have beaten him and following his repeated calls for a ban of Russia's dope-riddled walking team.
But he faded in the final kilometers and couldn't respond when Toth strode past him, all hips and elbows.
"I just pushed," Toth said. "It was all from my body, from my heart, from my brain, from my head."
Tallent said that in his eagerness to make amends for London, he expended too much energy, too soon. He only received his Olympic gold from 2012 this June — 1,405 days late — in a ceremony in drizzly rain in front of the Old Treasury Building in Melbourne — a far cry from being crowned in London.
"I thought I had it. I probably got a bit too excited. I was feeling really good. I was patient all throughout the race and just when I needed to be a little bit more patient, I went for it."
"I just ran out of legs with about 4K to go," he added. "I wanted to be Olympic champion for more than a few months."