Olive steps it up in Algarve

WORLD SILVER medallist, Olive Loughnane, faces her first big assignment of the year when she lines up for the European Cup Race Walking in Olhão on the Algarve on Saturday.

It will be the third outing of the year for the Cork-based Galway woman but it is by far the most important, with the reigning Olympic champion, Olga Kaniskina (Russia), the only big name missing from an exceptionally strong field.

In March, Loughnane posted her qualifying standard for London 2012 in Dudince, Slovakia when she came off her training block to win the women’s 20k walk in 92:40 — doing enough to win without being spectacular.

She had hoped for a quick follow-up in Rio Maior, Portugal two weeks later but found that the Dudince race had taken more out of her than she expected and she eventually dropped out.

“I definitely raced too quickly in Rio Maior,” she admitted yesterday after arriving on the Algarve to put the finishing touches to her preparations for Saturday’s assignment. “The end of March was an early start to my programme but I just wanted to get the roughness out of the legs. I thought I’d be strong for Rio Maior.

“I have been training just up the road in Monte Gordo so it was just a short trip from where we are competing. I am very strong at the moment but obviously feeling a bit tired after training at altitude. I am having loads of rest and looking forward to the race.

“It is going to be a good race. There is a very strong field here. In fact the only person missing is the Olympic champion. The Portuguese are obviously going to be very strong on home soil — just like the European cross-country championships last December — the women have the same depth as they would have in cross-country running.

“There is a full Russian team here including the world record holder as well as Maria Vasco from Spain who is very strong. In fact, three of the top four from last year’s European championships are here.”

Robert Heffernan goes into the men’s race with a consistent build up behind him. He posted his qualifying standard at 20k for next year’s Olympics on March 20 when he finished fifth in the Lugano Trophy in 80:53 — two minutes inside the standard — and then went on to finish sixth in Rio Maior in 81:50.

Since then he has trained at altitude in South Africa and completed his preparations for what he regards as his first real race of the season in Granada.

While Heffernan can expect the Russians to again throw the kitchen sink at him, he will also be expecting a backlash from the Italians, who created something of a surprise two years ago with a clean sweep of the medals. This year, Italy are represented by Matteo Giupponi, Daniele Paris, Giorgio Rubino and Federico Tontodonati in the men’s 20k.

It will also be a big day for young West Waterford racewalker, Kate Veale, who makes her European Cup debut and her debut over 10k.

She finished fourth over 5k at last year’s Youth Olympics in Singapore where she had the bronze medal at her mercy with just 400m to go.

At that stage it appeared certain as if the gold and silver medals would go to the Ukraine and Russia but the Italian, Anna Clemente, came storming through, tracked by Mao of China to blow the race apart.

On Saturday, Veale, who continues to smash Irish records on almost every outing, will renew rivalry with Clemente in what should be a thriller.

The Irish teams for the European Cup is:

50km Men: Colin Griffin (Ballinamore AC).

20km Men: Robert Heffernan (Togher AC); Michael Doyle (Tara AC); Brendan Boyce (Letterkenny AC).

20km Women: Olive Loughnane (Loughrea AC); Laura Reynolds (Mohill AC).

10km Junior Men: Evan Lynch (Clonmel AC).

10km Junior Women: Emma Prendiville (Farranfore/Maine Valley AC); Maeve Curley (Craughwell AC); Kate Veale (West Waterford).

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