Trucks, cyclists and nudists - Dunfee races to NACAC victory on unique course

Richmond race walker sees it all in Toronto

Evan Dunfee has raced on countless difference courses, in virtually every type of condition imaginable over his distinguished race walking career. 

Nude sunbathers marked a first. 

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The 27-year-old from Richmond, who famously was bumped out of the bronze-medal position at the 2016 Rio Olympics, walked to an easy win in the men's 20-kilometre race at the NACAC Championships on the meet's opening day Friday. 

The race walk was held on an open course on the Toronto Islands, forcing walkers to dodge the odd cyclist and pedestrian. It wound past Hanlan's Point nude beach. 

"Traffic was a bit busy, there were trucks on the course at certain points. It felt a little bit like Mario Kart to be honest. Dodging things. Just needed some banana peels, we would've been set," Dunfee said, laughing. "A few guys coming up from the nude beach, kind of caught us offguard. 

"It was not short of entertainment." 

Dunfee was one of the feel-good stories of the Rio Olympics, when he crossed fourth in the 50K race, but was upgraded to bronze after Japan's Hirooki Arai was disqualified for jostling the Canadian. Arai won an appeal, bumping Dunfee back to fourth. Dunfee opted not to pursue a counter-appeal, saying in a statement: "I will sleep soundly tonight, and for the rest of my life, knowing I made the right decision. I will never allow myself to be defined by the accolades I receive, rather the integrity I carry through life." 

Dunfee was the class of Friday's small field, racing to a time of one hour 25 minutes 39 seconds to win Canada's first gold of the meet. He and American Nick Christie paced each other for about eight kilometres before Dunfee pulled ahead for good to win by more than four minutes. 

Only four walkers competed, and three finished. American Emmanuel Corvera was disqualified. 

Small fields were the norm in most events Friday night at the University of Toronto's Varsity Stadium as well. There were just three women in both the 3,000-metre steeplechase and the women's 5,000, and just five in the men's 10,000. 

The NACAC Championships are for athletes from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, but Dunfee pointed out the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games, which ended Aug. 3 in Colombia, caused a logjam in the schedule for those countries. 

"Federations don't have that much money so they can't have a meet in Colombia and pay for that, and a week and a half later turn around and bring everyone to Toronto for a meet," he said. 

The NACAC championships, however, are an important fixture in the IAAF's revamped qualifying criteria for the world championships and Olympics. Rather than set times and distances athletes must meet, the new qualifying criteria will be based on rankings that are tabulated partly on points earned in international meets such as the NACAC championships. 

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