By Will Downing
China took the gold and silver in the Olympic men’s 20km walk in a race where only two seconds divided the top nine with 4km to go, and where Ireland’s Alex Wright was 46th.
Britain’s Tom Bosworth was the original dominant force in the race, opening up an early advantage at 6km, and then wresting back the lead having lost it.
Kenyan Samuel Gathimba had caught up with Bosworth by the 8km mark, and stayed out in front with him for the next few kilometres, as Canadian duo Ben Thorne and Inaki Gomez led the charge from the front of the main bunch.
With Gathimba suddenly fading, Bosworth’s nearest challenger became Daisuke Matsunaga of Japan, who cut the gap to the front to five seasons at the halfway mark. Dane Bird-Smith emerged at this point to move up to third, ahead of Chinese pair Wang Zhen and Cai Zelin.
Suddenly, Cai hit the front with a sudden burst, but Bosworth rebuffed him to take the lead once more.
A group of nine emerged at the front with Cai, Bird-Smith and Wang the top three at 16km, and it was from this point when the Chinese leaders pushed through their party piece – Cai and Wang breaking away to contest the medals themselves.
Wang Zhen took the honours in 1 hour,19 minutes, 14 seconds – 12 seconds clear of Cai, with Bird-Smith in third place, a further 11 seconds down.
Home Brazilian athlete Caio Bonfim was fourth, five seconds off bronze.
It was 46th for Ireland’s Alex Wright in 1:25:25, and he competes alongside former world champion Rob Heffernan and Brendan Boyce in the men’s 50k walk next week.
Wright said: “I'm slightly disappointed with the result but all my training is geared towards the 50km next week.
“This was difficult today. I wasn't fully in control but I ground it out.
“I've been quite nervous all week. I feel more confident for next week and know what's to come for next week. I'll take the positives out of today.
“It was a bit of mayhem at the start but it's going to be exciting next week competing alongside the boys (Heffernan and Boyce).”
Tonight, Ciara Mageean looks to continue her recent sparkling run of form off the back of her European 1500m bronze as she enters the Olympics at the same distance.
Her first-round heat is underway at 12:30am Irish time tonight.