Athletics: Loughnane hoping to walk tall as Heffernan just fails
WATCHING her close friend Robert Heffernan finish a heart-breaking fourth will surely spur on fellow-walker Olive Loughnane in her bid to win a European title today.
The Loughrea star is a long-time resident in Cork where she pounds the same roads as the feisty Togher 20km walker, who saw a medal slip agonisingly through his fingertips yesterday.
Heffernan was bang in the middle of a nailbiting three-man tussle for the minor medals with just seven kilometres to go, yet finished in that most painful of places, fourth.
"There's nothing I could have done differently, I gave it everything and I was still beaten, so, for me, that's very disappointing, but I have no regrets," Heffernan reflected.
Sixth at the 2007 World Championships and eighth at the last Olympics, a first medal looked finally within his eager grasp.
"It was my most mature performance," Heffernan said. "At 11 to 12km I felt like exploding and going, but I didn't, I had a plan in my head, to stay until 15km and I'm just lacking that bit of power still."
His painful fate was sealed in the 14th kilometre when Olympic 50km champion Alex Schwazer and the 2006 European bronze medallist, Portugal's Joao Vieira applied enough pressure to split their three-man group.
They were already 18 seconds behind Russia's metronomic long-time leader Stanislov Emelyanov (19), the world junior record holder, who won in 1:20.10 by a whopping 28-second margin.
Heffernan just couldn't find that extra gear when he most needed it, yet despite picking up a yellow card after 16km, kept chasing right to the line, finishing 11 seconds adrift of Vieira in 1:21 flat, a full minute clear of fifth.
"I was thinking: 'Go on, you can still win a medal! Anything could happen here.' I really thought I still could because someone could be disqualified or one of the boys could blow under the pressure," he admitted.
He never looked worried when Schwazer made an early breakaway or former Olympic champion Ivano Brugnetti dropped out of their chasing group after 12km.
"I know the dynamics of the race. They break down the same all the time. There's always a surprise factor for the medals and the Portuguese fella was the surprise today," Heffernan said.
Kerrywoman Gillian O'Sullivan suffered a fourth in the 2002 Europeans in Munich, but went on to take silver at Worlds a year later. So, Heffernan could be consoled by this, not to mention his highest ever finish, which in some way made up for his disappointing 15th at Worlds last year.
Ireland's other 20km man Jamie Costin, previously a 50km walker, finished 20th of yesterday's 23 starters in 1:26.55, two minutes outside his season-best.
Now it is Loughnane's turn to see if she can repeat her brilliant performance in Berlin last summer.
Gold medal favourite is Olga Kaniskina, Russia's race-walking queen, who is looking to add the European crown to her current World and Olympic titles.
Two other Russians -- Vera Sokolova and Anisya Kirdyapkina -- are also sub-1:26 racers, while Spanish hope Maria Vasco is another threat after winning this year's World Cup. But Loughnane has focussed her whole season on this race and will throw everything she's got at them.
Elsewhere, none of Ireland's three 400m hurdlers got through qualifying yesterday.
Irish champion Justine Kinney was fastest (57.39) and not far off her personal best. Michelle Carey ran a season's best of 57.58 when fifth in her heat and Brona Furlong was seventh in hers in 58.13 after clattering the last hurdle.
Most disappointing was Ferrybank long jumper Kelly Proper, who felt she had sorted out some recent technical problems, but clearly hadn't, as she fouled all three of her qualifying attempts.
Yet Proper insisted that she could not play it safe, saying "you have to go for it in these championships, everyone's going for it. I felt it was there today and I was just unlucky."
Irish In Action Today (all Irish time).
7.05am -- 20km Walk Final: Olive Loughnane.
9.30 -- Pole Vault Qualifying (Group A): Tori Penna.
9.40 -- 100m Heat: Ailis McSweeney (ht 1).
10.30 -- 3000m Steeplechase heats: Stephanie Reilly (10.30)/Fionnuala Britton (10.45).
11.10 -- 800m heats: David McCarthy (ht 3, 11.24).
5.35pm -- Women's 400m semi-finals: Joanne Cuddihy (3rd at 5.53).
6.10 -- Men's 400m semi-finals: David Gillick (6.19)/Gordon Kennedy (6.28).
6.50 -- 100m semi-finals: Jason Smyth.
7.40 -- 1500m semi-finals: Rory Chesser (7.40)/Thomas Chamney (7.50).