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Tallent: you'll never walk alone

20 August 2016

ATHLETICS: Most Olympic champions get four years. Jared Tallent got 63 days.

That’s how long it took from the moment his London Olympic gold medal was belatedly draped around his neck – in Melbourne, 20,000kms and 1,405 days away from the scene of his triumph – until he surrendered his crown.

Tallent walked himself into the ground in Rio today before being overtaken by Slovakian Matej Toth two kms from the 50km walk finish line, and admitted later: “I wanted to be Olympic champion for more than a few months.”

But at least when he stood proudly on the podium and raised his arms at Rio’s Olympic Stadium eight hours later, as a silver medallist again, his mind was not dogged by suspicions that he was beaten by a drug cheat, as he was in 2012.

He himself pronounced the Rio field clean, but the outcome added further twists to the curious story of Australia’s most decorated male track and field Olympian.

Tallent is certainly the only Aussie to have received a silver medal at two consecutive Olympics, yet been declared Olympic champion in between.

And he has now received a silver medal for the same event, the 50km walk, at three consecutive Games, having also finished second at Beijing in 2008.

Tallent received his upgraded London gold in a ceremony on the steps of the Treasury in Melbourne in June after the Court of Arbitration for Sport stripped Russian drug cheat Sergey Kirdyapkin of his title.

Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates, who performed the honours, said at the time a “massive injustice” had been rectified.

But Tallent had no qualms about the quality of Toth’s performance today – or anyone else’s.

“It's very different to London. There are no suspicions this time around. I didn’t have to worry about any cheats that were going to spoil the party for all the clean athletes,” he said.

So now Tallent walks on into history, with plans to compete again in Tokyo.

If he gets another medal there, he will extend his record as Australia’s most decorated male Olympic athlete. Only Edwin Flack has won two golds but Tallent is the only Australian man to have won four Olympic athletics medals (bronze and silver in the 50km and 20km walks in Beijing, gold in the 50km in London and silver in the 50km in Rio).

He has made a life out of walking. His sister Rachel is a walker – he was on the drinks station for her as she finished a game 40th with a stress fracture in the women’s 20km walk today.

His wife Claire is a walker, too. And where did he marry her? In Walkerville, South Australia, of course.

Tallent is making something of a habit of getting beaten by drug cheats, then having the last laugh. He was again elevated from silver to gold earlier this month after Alex Schwazer’s victory earlier this year in the World Race Walking Cup in Rome was rubbed out.

His strong campaign against doping has received steadfast support from all in Australia - his family, coaches, the athletics community, sporting authorities and the public generally.

He might just have well gone to Anfield to hear Liverpool FC’s anthem because the message has always been the same: You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Doug Conway





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