Heffernan’s sixth in Spain ‘my best ever walk’

ROBERT HEFFERNAN got his preparations for London 2012 back on track at the IAAF Racewalking Challenge Final in La Coruna on Saturday, breaking his own national record for the 10k walk when finishing sixth behind the world and Olympic champion, Valeriy Borchin, in 39:19.

It was the Corkman’s first competition since returning from Deagu on the eve of the world championships following the unexpected death of his mother.

He highlighted his wellbeing by sharing much of the early pace as part of a 14-man breakaway group that went through the opening kilometre in a blistering 3:56 and he was one of the first to respond when Jose Ignacio Diaz threw caution to the winds to lead through 3k in 11:50.

Inevitably, Borchin took over and he went on to win in 38:42 two Chinese walkers, Zhen Wang, 38:49, and Yafei Chu, 39:06, Joao Vieira (Portugal) 39:09 and Eder Sanchez (Mexico), 39:13.

Heffernan’s finishing time of 39:19 was well within striking distance of a medal and inside the old record which he set at 39:21 in Krakow last year. But even more significant was the fact that he had the silver and bronze medallists from the 50k at the world championships well behind him. Bronze medallist Jared Tallent (Australia) was 10th in 39:48 while the silver medallist, Denis Nizhegorodov, was even further back.

“I would put this performance up among my best ever walks — maybe it was my best,” Heffernan said.

His mentor, masseur and coaching co-ordinator, Liam O’Reilly was also very excited: “We go out to Germany this week and we just have to make sure Robert gets the 50k qualifying standard for next year’s Olympics.

“Saturday’s race was not always part of the plan as all our training is geared towards making sure he qualifies for London.

“He has gone through the most traumatic period of his life and I think he has come out a stronger and a better person. I believe he has the ability to take a medal at next year’s Olympics — possibly the gold medal.”

However, 2009 world silver medallist Olive Lougnane, appeared to be struggling early in the women’s race and eventually finished 10th in 44:27.

It was getting decidedly gloomy when the Russian champion, Olga Kaniskina, crossed the finishing line to win in 42:37 from Hong Liu (China), 42:54, and Melanie Seeger (Germany), 43:06.

Robert Heffernan’s mark was the second Irish record set over the weekend. On Friday night Alistair Cragg (Clonliffe Harriers) broke Mark Carroll’s 13 year old Irish 5000m record at the Samsung Diamond League Meeting Brussels when he clocked 13.03.53 for fifth place in a world class field. The old record stood at 13.03.93 which Carroll had set in Berlin back in 1998.

Friday night’s race was won by Imane Merga (Ethiopia) in 12.58.32 and Cragg’s time is almost a four second improvement on his previous best of 13.07.10 which he set at the corresponding meeting in Brussels in 2007. His time on Friday night is the 10th fastest time ever by a European.

IAAF Racewalking Challenge Final in La Coruna

Men: 1, V. Borchin (Russia) 38:42; 2, Z. Wang (China) 38:49; 3, Y. Chu (China) 39:06; 4, J. Vieira (Portugal) 39:09; 5, E. Sanchez (Mexico) 39:13; 6, R. Heffernan (Ireland) 39:19; 7, I. Fujisawa (Japan) 39:18; 8, L. Adams (Australia) 39:45; 9, E. Palma Olivares (Mexico) 39:46; 10, J. Tallent (Australia) 39:48.

Women: 1, O. Kaniskina (Russia) 42:37; 2, H. Liu (China) 42:54; 3, M. Seeger (Germany) 43:06; 4, A. Cabecinha (Portugal) 43:12; 5, S. Feitor (Portugal) 43:37; 6, B. Pascual (Spain) 43:46; 7, M-Jose Poves (Spain) 44:12; 8, N. Gao (China) 44:17; 9, I. Henriques (Portugal) 44:25; 10, O. Loughane (Ireland) 44:27.

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