Rob Heffernan will be making a short stopover in Cork on Tuesday evening as he attempts to defend his Cork City Sports 3,000m race-walk title.
A month after his appearance at the Cork meet last summer, Heffernan was crowned World 50k walking champion, and this summer he returns to Cork, albeit for only 24 hours, before returning to altitude training in Spain.
In his first competitive appearance on home soil since that triumph, Heffernan will be seeking to break his own World Masters (O35s) 3000m walking record of 11:11.94, which he set at Cork IT last year. However he will have to overcome the challenge of Australian 21-year-old Dane Bird-Smith if he is to hold onto the Cork City Sports title.
Tony O’Connell, Cork City Sports chairman, believes he can count on home support to push him to the line: “If only half of the people who came out to meet Rob on the night of his homecoming come to see him on the CIT track on Tuesday, it would be a fantastic tribute to the man himself.”
Athletes have been recruited for the event since last October and the fruits of such labour told as the fields quickly filled to capacity.
“It’s the first time in 63 years that events have been full for three weeks before the event, and we have a queuing system for athletes trying to get into the events,” said O’Connell.
Indeed defending women’s 400m champion Victoria Ohuruogu only secured her place this week, having had to wait on other athletes to drop out.
Jessie Barr is the top Irish representative in that race, but it is her brother, Thomas, who races in the event with perhaps the greatest depth of talent. He recently dipped under 49 seconds for the 400m hurdles, but will have to contend with Olympic bronze medallist Javier Culson (Puerto Rico) and recently-crowned US champion Johnny Dutch.
The 100m also promises to be potentially explosive, with Keymar Hyman (Cayman Islands), Mark Lewis-Francis (England) and Gabriel Mvumvure (Zimbabwe) all having PBs under the 10-second mark.
Reigning women’s 800m European champion, Lynsey Sharp (Scotland), takes in Cork in preparation for her title defence in Zurich. Sharp comes into the week in career-best form having dipped under 2 minutes for the 800m in Thursday night’s Diamond League meet in Lausanne. However Sharp will face competition from fellow sub-2 minute runners, Tintu Luka (India) and Pheobe Wright (USA), as well as Kerry’s Laura Crowe.
The 3000m women’s race will feature Fionnuala Britton as a favourite, while Jeff Henderson could be set to star in the field after leaping 8.52m in the US National Championship long-jump last week.
The event has developed a truly global reputation, with a Japanese team staying for 10 days in Cork, and using CIT for their summer camp.
“This year’s line-up is one of the best years ever of the event,” concluded O’Connell. “There are athletes from almost 40 countries and you have Olympic and world champions from all over the globe coming on the scene in Cork on Tuesday night.”
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