Yang Jiayu raced to gold in a thrilling finish to the 20km walk at the World Athletics Championships on Sunday but her compatriot Lyu Xiuzhi learned she had been dramatically disqualified when metres away from winning the bronze medal.
Yang upped the pace over the last 100 metres on the Mall to power away from Mexico’s Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez and finish a mere one second clear in 1 hours 26 minutes 18 seconds, a superb triumph for the 21-year-old in her maiden senior championship.
Yet Lyu, perhaps favourite for the title, did not realise she had already received a third red card for a late infringement — meaning automatic disqualification — as she was still racing home just behind Gonzalez.
As she was less than 20 metres from the line believing the bronze medal was in her grasp, a senior official stepped out in front of her to confirm her disqualification.
It meant that Antonella Palmisano, who had been broken by the leading trio just as they started the last of the 10 two kilometre loops between Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace on The Mall came home for the bronze in 1:26.36, Italy’s first medal of the championships.
“I feel really excited,” said Yang. “I started race walking at the age of 14. Now I hope to be the future of race walking in China.”
Yet she had time to spare a thought for her disqualified team mate. “I feel sorry for Lyu. Maybe she’ll get to win a competition soon,” she said.
The result was also tough on former boxer Gonzalez, who had also missed out on gold at last year’s Rio Olympics by just two seconds. Her consolation was in becoming only the second Mexican woman to medal at the world championships after Ana Guevara, the former 400 metres champion.
“I did all I could but the Chinese athlete was better in the final part. It was very close but we made it a fight to the line.”
She, too, spared a thought for Lyu. “She is an excellent race walker who continues to work hard. It is a difficult moment for her but she’ll be ready and stronger in the next few years.”
Palmisano, who was fourth at last year’s Olympics, was delighted to this time make the podium in unexpected fashion.
“I was only concentrated on myself. I feel sorry for Lyu but I wanted that medal and now I have it,” she said.