Another masters world record for Robert Heffernan in the men’s 3,000m race walk and a sub 50 second 400m hurdles for Thomas Barr as an engaging 63rd Cork City Sports last night in Bishopstown gave a significant marker for what lies at ahead at the European Championships in Zurich in August.
While neither Heffernan nor Barr were able to give the home crowd the victory they craved, the world class competition more than made up for it.
Thomas Barr opened up the main programme in the Cork 400m hurdles and he faced a strong headwind down the back straight — not to mention world class opposition in the two lanes outside him, in Olympic bronze medallist Javier Culson and recently crowned US champion Johnny Dutch.
Barr was in lane four with Culson in lane five and in truth it proved slightly off-putting for the Waterford hurdler. Nonetheless, he came through to finish third in 49.95 behind Culson’s impressive victory in 48.41 with Dutch second in 49.27.
“It was a brilliant race, brilliant competitors and brilliant to be involved in such a high calibre race at home and having them (the crowd) behind me,” said Barr immediately after the race. “I just wished I could have competed a little bit better,” added Barr, with a tinge of regret.
“I switched off. The wind was so strong down the back straight. I think I let it get into my head a bit more than physical. I tried to claw it back. My first 200m was okay. I should have gotten 13 strides all the way around the top bend.
“My stride pattern wasn’t ideal, conditions weren’t ideal but it was a sub 50 time and my fourth sub 50 of the year, so I can’t be too disappointed.”
In truth, the occasion may have got to him slightly but it was a timely experience for greater challenges that lie ahead — most importantly the 400m hurdles heat at the Europeans on August 12.
“Because that was my first race against someone of such a high calibre, and he (Culson) was directly outside me, I think I was nearly concentrating on him too much,” admitted Barr. “But to get such a race in a more relaxed atmosphere at home makes a massive difference. It’s where I need to be. It’s where I need to be aiming towards — these higher calibre meets. It’s a great stepping stone for things later on.”
For Robert Heffernan, the men’s 3,000m race walk was a stepping stone for the 50km race walk on August 15, where he will look to add the European crown to the world title he won last year.
The Togher athlete flew into Cork the night before, from the mountains in Sierra Nevada, and his fourth place finish in 11:09.08 was another over-35 world record to better his time from last year. Dane Bird-Smith came out on top in 10:56.23.
“I’m in the middle of a very heavy block of training,” said Heffernan afterwards. “I flew in last night because of the massive support I have at home. The Europeans are more important this year. Everything went perfectly last year and you’re nearly trying to compare everything. The next four or five weeks are very important.”
It all points towards an exciting European championships for Heffernan and this race, which was essentially a speed session, proved he’s well on course for a medal performance in Zurich.
Fionnuala Britton (Kilcoole) was a little ring rusty in the women’s 3,000m and had a battling last lap to finish third in 9:01.01 behind the impressive Marielle Hall of Texas, who won in 8:54.48.
Britton ended up towing the field around in windy conditions early on, which she paid for mid-race.
“I was expecting the pacemaker to go to 1km but she wasn’t able to so I hit the front as I was feeling good,” said Britton afterwards. “It was far tougher running into the wind than I expected but that’s the way the race panned out.”
Britton struggled for a couple of laps but summoned the energy and was the fastest finishing athlete on the last lap.
There was great pace in the men’s mile. New Jersey’s Kyle Merber was elated to take the win in 3:56.72 — his best performance for a number of years. Kevin Batt was hoping for better than his 4:01.91 and 9th place finish but he looked flat with a long US collegiate season taking its toll.
The men’s 3,000m rounded out the programme and the crowd weren’t left disappointed, with New Zealander Zane Robertson’s classy win in 7:41.37. They hung on just long enough for him to give him a rousing reception on his victory lap before dashing to the nearest pub to watch Germany demolish Brazil in the semi-final of the World Cup!
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