Canada's Dunfee adjusts to painful pace of shorter race ahead of 2024 Olympic Games

SANTIAGO, Chile — Evan Dunfee is adapting to the escalation of suffering in a shorter race after reaching the Olympic podium in a much longer one.

The Canadian claimed a bronze medal in the Olympic swan song of the 50-kilometre race walk two years ago in Tokyo.

Dunfee was devastated over the removal of the longest footrace from the Olympic Games.

The 20K remains on the Olympic menu for Paris in 2024. Dunfee placed fourth at the world championship in Budapest, Hungary on Aug. 19.

"I've been forced to embrace it," Dunfee said Sunday after finishing ninth in the men's 20K at the Pan American Games.

"It's a sprint in our minds. It's still 20K, but the 50K was hold your pace, it starts to hurt, and then you just try to fight through that same level of pain for really long time.

"The 20K, it starts to hurt, and then it starts to hurt more and then it hurts more, more, more. It's been training my body and training my mind to embrace that cascading level of pain."

An injured hamstring plus a bout of COVID-19 since the world championship had Dunfee questioning whether he'd compete in the Pan American Games.

The 33-year-old from Richmond, B.C., lacked snap in his legs to stay with the lead pack in the 20-lap race at Santiago's O'Higgins Park.

Dunfee lost contact with the front-runners at the halfway mark but still managed a top-10 finish in cool and cloudy conditions.

"I love putting the Canada vest on and I love it more when I can do that when I'm in peak shape," Dunfee said. "The hamstring was a big setback and I'm just happy we were able to turn it around.

"I went out there and gave it my best shot. I put myself in there with a chance, hoping for a miracle. It didn't quite happen today. I'm proud of going through 10K in under 40 minutes. It's only the second time I've ever done that in a 10K race, Budapest being the first time. Today was a beneficial step toward Paris."

Ecuador's David Hurtado captured the gold medal in a time of one hour 19 minutes 20 seconds.

Hurtado was just four seconds faster than Brazilian runner-up Caio Bonfim, who had finished third in Budapest ahead of Dunfee. Mexico's Andrés Eduardo Olivas took bronze.

The men's race walk was delayed an hour to remeasure and adjust the course after the women's 20K. When 11 women went under the world record, it was discovered their course was about three kilometres too short and the women's times were annulled.

The women's field didn't include a Canadian.

The Pan Am Games blamed the Association of Pan American Athletics (APA) and its expert Marcelo Ithurralde for the mistake.

"Mr. Marcelo Ithurralde did not take accurate measurements of the route the athletes took during the race," Santiago's organizing committee said in a statement.

"We deeply regret the inconvenience for the athletes, their coaches, the public and the attending press, but this situation cannot be attributed to the organizing committee."

Dunfee said the delay didn't disrupt his preparation, but he felt sad for the women.

"This would have been really valuable points toward qualifying for Paris, so that's really heartbreaking" he said. "It's an unfortunate thing to happen."

The men's 50K race walk will be replaced by a mixed marathon relay in Paris. Santiago will stage a mixed race walk Saturday.

Dunfee doesn't yet have a teammate. He's hoping Olivia Lundman, who he coaches on the University of British Columbia's race-walk team, can step into that void next year.

Dunfee and Sara Semkiw were engaged in July. He's enrolled in the Smith School of Business with an eye to improving his campaign skills for the next municipal election in Richmond.

Dunfee lost the race for a council seat in 2022 by less than 500 votes, which he compares to finishing fourth in the men's 50K in the 2016 Olympic Games.

"Hopefully in four years I can get on the metaphorical podium," Dunfee said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press