Then Olive Loughnane was disqualified shortly after half way in yesterday’s women’s 20k when she went out on a card for knees - something seldom seen in racewalking.
Heffernan had made all the sacrifices, done all the hard work and travelled up to Helsinki in what he felt was the best shape of his life.
And the early part of the race oozed promise, as he consolidated what was a safe position behind the early leader, Chaohong Yu from China.
The 27-year-old Corkman was 12th at that stage and when the Olympic silver medallist, Francisco Javi Fernandez, went to the front, the field began to creak. When he was joined by the Olympic champion Ivano Brugnetti from Italy, with the defending champion Jefferson Perez from Ecuador positioned to pounce, the bunch split and Heffernan was perfectly placed to take advantage.
He would eventually drop off the back of the lead group under the relentless pace now being shared by the Spaniard and Perez, the 1996 Olympic champion who broke the world record to claim the title in Paris.
The Spaniard took them through the first 5k in 19 mins 44 secs with Heffernan on schedule to break his Irish record in 19th position in 19:51.
He held his position at 10k (40:04) and was 12th at 15k (60:25).
Unfortunately he had already been flashed two yellows at that point. The first came at a water station 8k into the race and, according to Irish coach, Ray Flynn, left Heffernan’s coach, the legendary Robert Korzeniowsky, shaking his head in disbelief.
By 15k, he had picked up his second warning and then, a kilometre or so later he was 11th when he got dispatched. He was absolutely gutted.
“It was no fluke that I was up there in 11th place,” he insisted. “I was aiming for the top 12. Everything was very structured, it was all very controlled and I was not surprised to be up there in that position. What I was doing was what I had planned.”
He made all the sacrifices this year. After putting his Olympic disappointment behind him, he turned in his best winter ever, raced in Tijuana and then went to train at altitude where he picked up an injury.
It was a long haul back. He spent almost two months in Poland, trained, dissected his technique on video and left nothing to chance. The race was perfectly planned and perfectly executed up to the point when he was disqualified.
“I deliberately did not go out fast, everything was paced, I did not chase and then got the pace exactly right. I could not believe it,” he said.
There may not have been a world record - an undulating 2,000m loop with a climb to the finish put paid to that - but Perez, who has also had his injury problems, turned in a performance that was equal to his Paris effort to win in 1:18:35, with Fernandez settling for the silver medal a long way from the finish and another Spaniard, Juan Manuel Molina, taking bronze.
The world record and the €80,000 reward that goes with it fell to Olimpiada Ivanova (Russia) who won the women’s race in 1:04:05, a minute and 21 secs ahead of Ryta Turava (Belarus) with Elisa Riguado (Italy) claiming the bronze medal in 1:05.57.
Olive Loughnane carried Irish hopes up to 11k, when she was disqualified after three cards. Up to that point everything had been falling into place for her and she was on her way to a personal best.
“I got two for lifting and one for knees,” she said afterwards. “I was very disappointed to get one for knees because that never really happens.
“Unfortunately I thought I had survived. You can get cautions where they show you a card and, although I had gotten a few of those, I seemed to have survived but unfortunately they were checking the cards.
“I pulled back once I knew I was on two cards but even still I was staying in touch with the group in front of me. It was my first disqualification at this level. It is an awful stage for such a thing to happen on. I have worked very hard and the pace I was going at indicated that training had paid off. I was on pace to equal my pb at least when I was disqualified. I was confident I would do well but those are the rules of the event.
“I put a lot of work into my technique, analysing it frame by frame, but obviously there is more to be done. I came into the sport late so I would hope there is a couple of years left.”