“Every parent should have the opportunity to know the feeling you get when your child is so happy.”
This was the reaction of Evan Dunfee’s mother, Karen, just minutes after her bronze-medal Olympian son got off the plane Monday morning, just back from Tokyo 2020.
And Dunfee was all smiles as a crowd of family and friends cheered him as he arrived, and as strangers fist-bumped him and congratulated him on his third place finish in racewalking.
Dunfee’s specialty is the 50-km racewalking event, but this is the last year it will be a part of the Olympics. He was told by the Olympic committee that it was being dropped because it didn’t appeal to a younger audience, something he disagrees with.
“It’s a lost cause, but I am going to shout from the rooftops how great the event is to anyone who will listen,” Dunfee said. “I know I’m banging my head against a brick wall, but I love the event and I’m never going to stop telling people how great it is.”
Dunfee came in fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics in 50-km racewalking after a controversial ending, which he didn’t contest.
Now having an Olympic medal in his hand, he said he’s excited to be able to show it to youth – which is different from just telling them he came in fourth.
“It’s so nice to have this tangible thing - when I go to school talks, I can hand something to the kids and say this is the thing I’m talking about,” Dunfee said.
Dunfee’s coach, Gerry Dragomir, who has been coaching him for 20 years, said Dunfee is the most stubborn person he knows, but much of that stems from his determination to do well in his sport.
“He is probably one of the most passionate people I know for improvement and so it’s all about tiny little bits getting better and better and better,” Dragomir said.
Dunfee’s time was 3:50:59 – just 51 seconds behind the gold-medal winner, Dawid Tomala.
At the 40-kilometre point, the group was almost three minutes behind first-place racewalker Tomala, but the gap narrowed in the last leg of the race.
Dunfee had made it to fifth place at the 45-km mark, and in the last leg, he gathered his speed and captured the bronze medal with a time of 3:50:59.
Silver went to Germany’s Jonathan Hilbert who was 36 seconds behind Tomala, and 15 seconds ahead of Dunfee.
“We were aiming for the top,” Dragomir said. “So, there was a little bit of disappointment that we didn’t get what we were after, but certainly a lot of elation that he got what he did.”
On the very last leg of the race, Dunfee managed to squeeze past Spain’s Marc Tur and into third place. He had felt some cramping in his hamstring but found a spurt of energy at the last minute to slide into the bronze spot.
“That was fabulous the way he found that extra little bit to get past the Spanish fellow,” Dragomir said.
Dunfee said he’s not used to being around thousands of people so he plans to “keep on my own for a few days.”
At the games, which were postponed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the virus was “always at the back of your mind,” but he was impressed by the safety protocols put in place by the Canadian Olympic Organizing Committee that went beyond what was mandated by the international committee.
Team Canada had zero positive COVID-19 results, Dunfee said, so the risk was low – but he acknowledged there is always a risk in small spaces with many people.
In Sapporo, Team Canada had limited interaction with anyone else and stuck together, eating as a team and taking the team bus together.
“I certainly felt very well protected and taken care of,” he said.
Dunfee is considering running for Richmond city council in 2022.