ROBERT HEFFERNAN is a warrior and a fighter and he will win a medal at the Olympic Games in London 2012, according to his coach, Ivonne Cassin.
She was speaking after the Togher man completed an amazing campaign at the European Championships in Barcelona, where he not only replicated his fourth placing in Tuesday’s 20k walk but knocked over four and a half minutes off the national 50k record, which he set on his debut over the distance last March.
His time, 3:45:38, placed him fourth behind Frenchman, Yohann Diniz, who led from start to finish to win in 3:40:37, but the result could have been different Heffernan had the confidence to cover the decisive break.
Instead he was left leading a chasing group as the process of elimination decimated the field – only 15 would finish the course, including Ireland’s other representative, Colin Griffin, who came straight off injury to finish 11th in 3:57:58.
“Robert is brilliant and we are all delighted for him,” Cassin said.
“London 2012 is the main goal. The (medal) chances are there and it’s just a matter of putting things together, keeping up the good work and having everything finalised. Robert is a warrior and a fighter and he is very talented.”
Heffernan said: “I can do either 20k or 50k in London in 2012 or I could do the two of them. I was very disappointed the other day, today is better so I’m getting closer, it’s getting better and it’s great.”
Meanwhile, Niamh Whelan made another major contribution to Irish sprinting when she made the semi-finals of the women’s 200m.
The diminutive Ferrybank sprinter, the youngest by far of all the 16 semi-finalists, got through among the fastest losers after running a brilliant race in the first round to finish fourth in 23.78 secs. In the semi-final, she went to within 100th of a second of her PB to finish sixth in 23.31 secs.
“I was really happy with the time which was run into a minus wind,” she said. “It was a great experience going out there and running in such a class field. I am glad I did well. The goal was not to come last and I was sixth. I am only 20 and it’s my first major championship.”
Fionnuala Britton was bitterly disappointed with her performance in the final of the women’s 3,000m steeplechase after finishing 11th in 9:44.25. The gold medal was won Yuliya Zarudneva (Russia) in a championship record of 9:17.57.
Deirdre Ryan came tantalisingly close to qualifying for the final of the women’s high jump with a seasonal best of 1.90m in the qualifying rounds. Another two centimetres would have seen her through.
Kelly Proper has withdrawn from the women’s 4 x 100m relay squad, who begin their campaign this morning when Amy Foster, Niamh Whelan, Claire Brady and Ailis McSweeney go into action. Should they get through to tomorrow’s final, Derval O’Rourke will be available. The men’s 4 x 400m team is Gordon Kennedy to Brian Murphy to Brian Gregan to David Gillick. The women’s 4 x 400m team is Marian Andrews to Joanne Cuddihy to Brona Furlong to Michelle Carey.
Alistair Cragg’s future in an Irish singlet may well depend on his performance in the final of the men’s 5,000m this evening. He has the ability to win a medal, but he suffered another lapse on Wednesday night when he faded towards the end after dominating most of his first round heat.
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