Leitrim walker Laura Reynolds 37th at the World Cup
AFTER a year disrupted by injury and illness Leitrim race walker Laura Reynolds (25) produced the second fastest time of her life (1:32.25) when she finished 37th in the 20km at the World Cup in Taicang, China this morning.
The Mohill AC athlete had shown serious promise when she finished 20th on her Olympic debut in 2012 but could only do cross-training all last winter after a badly disrupted year and she eventually needed to get an injection in her toe to sort out her foot problem.
She has only ever gone faster once before and that was her 1:31.02 in the London Olympics and today's time also qualified her for this summer's European Championships in Zurich.
Reynolds may have been nearly six minutes adrift of the Russian winner but after coming through half-way in 46:20 she doggedly working her way up the 88-woman field and was delighted, particularly at clinching European qualification in only her second race of the year.
"It's my second fastest time ever and is actually quicker than the time I did to get the Olympic qualification so I'm pretty happy," said the 25-year-old PE teacher whose last temping job was in Loreto, Cavan before Christmas.
"I really wasn't expecting it because the weather had been so hot here," she said, relieved that the local temperature had dropped from 27 degrees yesterday to a breezy 20 today.
The passionate local crowd that lined the 2km road loop saw local darling Liu Hong having to settle for 20km silver behind Russia's Anisya Kirdyapkina, herself second at last year's World Championships.
The Russian star only broke clear in the last lap to win in 1:26.31 and while Hong was 27 seconds adrift she had to survive a terrific tussle for silver with Russia's Elmira Alembekova which was almost a carbon copy of the battle the Chinese star lost to Ireland's Olive Loughnane in the 2009 World Championships.
Russian walking superpower laid down a marker that they will be gunning for Rob Heffernan in this summer's Europeans when they took four of the top five places in the gruelling 50km event.
Heffernan famously beat all of them on their home turf at last summer's World Championships and the man who was second to him, Mikhail Ryzhov won yesterday in 3:39.05.
His compatriot Ivan Noskov took silver 33 seconds adrift and Australia's multiple global medallist Jared Tallent took bronze a full three minutes slower before two more Russians rounded out the top five.
Heffernan has opted to just race three shorter races in preparation for Zurich and the second of them is tomorrow's (Sun) 20km in Taicang where he is competing in a stacked 20km race which includes a lot of other 50km stars moving down in distance.
China got what they wanted in the men's junior (U20) 10km yesterday which was won by Wenkui Gao in a blistering 39.40 championship record.
Japan's Daisuke Matsunaga was just five seconds behind him in a new Japanese junior record and Russia's Nikolay Markov took bronze in a personal best of 39.55 in a race which saw four national records in the top 14.
Results to follow......