Frenchman destroys old mark at European Championships in Zurich despite stopping near the finish to celebrate

Yohann Diniz smashed the world record for 50km race walk as he took his third European title in Zurich on Friday morning. It was the first world record at these championships since 1990 and came despite him stopping near the finish to collect an extra flag to celebrate with.

There were shades of Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad’s topless celebration and subsequent disqualification in the previous night’s steeplechase final as fellow Frenchman Diniz stopped within sight of the finish for about 10 seconds to grab a flag from the sidelines of the course.

Diniz will certainly be allowed to keep his well-deserved gold medal, though, and he later explained he was keen to get the flag in order to dedicate the victory to the memory of his Portuguese grandmother.

The only real concern was that he might have jeopardized a possible world record. Yet as it turned out, Diniz was comfortably inside the old mark of 3:34:14, which was set by Denis Nizhegorodov of Russia in 2008.

Diniz’s 3:32:33 took 1min 41sec off the record and he became the first athlete to set a world record at the European Championships since the French men’s 4x100m team clocked 37.79 in Split in 1990. (Robert Korzeniowski set a world best, not record, for the 50km walk in the 2002 European Championships).

Diniz, 36, won gold at the 50 km race at the 2006 Europeans in Gothenburg in 3:41:39. He then repeated the feat at the 2010 Europeans in Barcelona in a PB of 3:40:37.

Competing in cool and wet conditions in the centre of Zurich, Diniz passed the marathon (26.2 miles) mark in under three hours – a time most fun runners find well outside their reach – before coasting the final 10km alone.

“This is the best day of my life,” he said. “I want to dedicate this victory to my grandmother who died this year. She was Portuguese and that is the reason why I was holding both French and Portuguese flags while coming to the finish.

“I would love to say big thank you to my parents, my grandparents, my family and the people who were supporting me here.

“My third European title – it is like in a dream. Before I came here, I knew I was in good shape but what helped me a lot was the Russian guy Ryzhov, who started with very fast pace. I feel sorry for him he could not keep up with us in the same speed but it helped me to achieve the record.”

Matej Toth of Slovakia was in second, more than three minutes adrift, while Ivan Noskov beat fellow Russian Mikhail Rykhov for bronze – the latter having shared much of the early pace with Diniz.

World champion Rob Heffernan dropped out mid-race.

Elsewhere, British middle-distance runners Chris O’Hare and Charlie Grice – plus controversial Frenchman Mekhissi-Benabbad – qualified in style in the 1500m semi-finals, but youngster Morgan Lake was in tears after exiting the high jump qualifying round with a best of 1.85m.

>> Full coverage of the championships in next week’s Athletics Weekly, out on Aug 21