Heffernan finds his stride for Beijing after a ‘brilliant year’

ROBERT HEFFERNAN ended up ninth in the IAAF Racewalking Challenge — the Grand Prix of Race walking — following what has been a sensational year for the Cork athlete.

Highlight of the year was undoubtedly his sixth placing in the 20k final at the world championships in Osaka but he also set two national records and secured his place at next year’s Olympic Games when he beat the qualification standard for the first time at a race in China as far back as March.

“But the real work for Beijing begins next month,” the Togher man said yesterday.

“After the world championships I took September off and I’m now back doing recovery training — a bit of running, hill walking and work in the gym.

“I have been very lucky in that I have got sponsorship from the Sheraton Hotel in Fota Island. The facilities there are absolutely fabulous. As well a superbly-equipped gymnasium I have access to a super hydrotherapy pool and spa. I spend two or three hours a day there.”

“I have had a brilliant year. I broke two national records and I have been consistently inside the Olympic standard. Sixth in the world championships was a very good result and it gives me a great foundation to build on.

“I know it is going to be a long haul from here to Beijing but I feel refreshed now and already I am looking forward to the journey. I will be back in full training again next month and I will have my first race of the year in Russia in January so it is not so far away at all.

“Once you get into the training process you become absorbed by it. I will be in constant contact with Robert (Korzeniowski), my coach, and all the vibes from him are always extremely positive so I would see the Olympic Games creeping up very quickly.”

Ireland’s Gillian O’Sullivan won the Women’s Race Walking Challenge back in 2003 — the year she won her silver medal at the world championships in Paris. Robert Korzeniowski won the men’s challenge that year.

This year overall Challenge victories went to Australia’s Luke Adams (36pts) and Belarussian Ryta Turava (40pts) in the men’s and women’s divisions. Last year’s overall winners, Francisco Javier Fernández of Spain (32pts) and Romania’s Claudia Stef (16pts), finished in third and sixth positions.

To be ranked in the Final Standings in 2007, athletes had to have competed in four of the eight Challenge meetings.

Final Standings: Men: 1, Luke Adams (Australia); 2, Erik Tysse (Norway); 3, Francisco Javier Fernández (Spain); 4, Eder Sánchez (Mexico); 5, Hatem Ghoula (Tunisia); 6, Ivano Brugnetti (Italy); 7, João Vieira (Portugal); 7, Jared Tallent (Australia); 9, Robert Heffernan Robert (Ireland).

Women: 1, Ryta Turava (Belarus); 2, Kjersti Plätzer (Norway); 3, Sabine Zimmer (Germany); 4, Elisa Rigaudo (Italy); 5, Elena Ginko (Belarus); 6, Claudia Stef (Romania); 7, Jane Saville (Australia); 8, Susana Feitor (Portugal); 9, Inês Henriques (Portugal).

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