Saturday 1 November 2014

Heffernan carries hopes of a nation on Zurich track

Aisling Crowe

Published 10/08/2014 | 02:30

Rob Heffernan
Rob Heffernan

Mark it down in the diary. Friday, August 15 may be the start of a new era for Irish athletics as the two men on whose very differently designed shoulders a nation’s medal hopes rest take to Zurich’s track and roads in their quest for golden glory in the European Championships.

Set the alarm clocks early as the best 50km race walker in the world, Rob Heffernan, will attempt to add the European title to the World Championship gold he won last summer in Moscow at 8.0am on Friday morning.

One day short of the anniversary of his greatest triumph, the Corkman is favourite to improve on his previous performances in this competition. He finished one place out of the medals in both the 20km and 50km events in the 2010 European Championships but under the expert tutelage of his wife, 400m star Marian, his results have steadily improved each year. Before his ascension to the top step of the podium, Heffernan finished fourth in the London Olympics and is primed to cement his place as the best race walker in Europe.

The prolific national record holder established a high-performance walk centre in Cork where he oversees the careers of Brendan Boyce and Luke Hickey. Boyce, from Letterkenny, will join his coach in the 50km event and the pupil will hope to put into practice the lessons he has learned from the master.

Barring unforeseen events or accidents, Waterford’s Thomas Barr should line up in the final of the men’s 400m hurdles shortly before 8.0pm that evening. The Ferrybank athlete is having the best season of his nascent career, winning his fourth national title last month. A week before he continued his home hegemony, the 22-year-old shocked reigning world champion Jerhue Gordon in the Morton Games. Ranked third in Europe, the recent University of Limerick mechanical engineering graduate has a medal in his sights.

Sandwiched between those two events will be the first round of the men’s 1,500m in which Ireland has a strong team of Paul Robinson, Ciarán Ó Lionáird and John Travers. The mercurial Ó Lionáird took bronze in the 3,000m at the European Indoor Championships last year but has substantial form over the shorter distance, including 10th place in the 2011 World Championships.

Mark English is a young man going places and the UCD medicine student could be one of the brightest stars to shine for Irish athletics in a number of years. In 2012, the Letterkenny man, then just 19, reached the final of the 800m at World Junior Championships. Hampered by a hamstring injury, he still ran into fifth place. That result looked more impressive a few weeks later when the gold and silver medallist from that race took silver and bronze behind David Rudisha in the Olympic final. The 21-year-old gets his European Champions under way on Monday

While English is racing, double European Cross-Country champion Fionnuala Britton will be warming up for the 10,000m final an hour later.

The Wicklow athlete finished fourth in the final of the 2011 European Championships and took bronze over 3,000m in the 2013 indoor equivalent. On Saturday, she runs her first marathon for Ireland and will be joined on the women’s team by fellow debutante at the distance, Dundrum’s Sarah Mulligan, and Barbara Sanchez from the Clonliffe Harriers club.

Walking seems to be where it’s at for women too and Laura Reynolds will carry Irish hopes in the 20km race on Thursday morning. Coached by another Leitrim racewalking star, Colin Griffin, the 25-year-old was sixth at the World University Games last year and finished 20th on her Olympic debut in 2012. She is another for whom 2014 could be a year to remember.

Sunday Indo Sport

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