Heffernan heartened despite being off pace in World Cup 20km
ROB HEFFERNAN wasn't the only one disappointed after he finished 23rd in the 20km at the Race Walking World Cup in Taicang.
Heffernan, at least, was able to reasonably argue that, as the world's 50km champion, his focus is entirely geared towards the longer distance at this summer's European Championships and that yesterday's race in far-flung China was mere preparation.
His finishing time (81 minutes flat) was almost two and a half minutes behind the surprise Ukranian winner and much slower than his own 79:22 personal best from 2008.
But China's Olympic 20km champion Chen Ding, for whom the World Cup was this year's main event, had no such excuse for finishing only 15th in front of his adoring home fans who turned out in their droves despite a terribly wet day.
Reigning world 20km champion Aleksandr Ivanov was even more upset when he got disqualified with just a lap and a half left and Russia also didn't make the team medals.
But given Heffernan's innate competitiveness, and the fact that he has successfully doubled up before – at both the Olympics and the European Championships, where he was fourth in both distances in 2010 – he was still unhappy at getting dropped so quickly when the pace was suddenly upped to sub-four-minute kilometres.
"Sub-four is out of my comfort-zone," said the Corkman who turned 36 two months ago. "I tried to go with it initially, but I just haven't got those wheels. From then on I just had to regroup myself and work at my own race."
Heffernan was at the front of the large leading bunch who went through eight kilometres in 32.17, but just before they hit halfway in 40.10, he got detached after a sudden injection of pace that saw the winner eventually averaging 3.55 minutes per kilometre.
Within a lap (2km) he found himself back in 30th and in the unfamiliar position of trying to hitch onto a chasing group.
"It's okay, 81 minutes on a bad day is still very solid for me off 50km training," he said. "I didn't feel brilliant, I didn't feel fluent and it was a hard effort alright.
"If I'd had another 30 seconds in me a top 10 wouldn't have been that far away but something has to give at that speed.
"There were still a lot of 80-minute men behind me but, when things aren't going with you at 50km, you just have to just shut up and get on with it and that's what I told myself today."
He did find some consolation in the fact that he has now put two 81-minute performances back-to-back in the build-up to a major championship: "I've actually never done that before, that's very consistent and will push me on a bit."
Ruslan Dmytrenko (28) provided the day's biggest shock by breaking Ukraine's long-standing national record to win in 78 minutes and 37 seconds.
Chinese hopes were high as two of their 20km 2012 Olympic medallists (Ding and Zhen Wang) were among the favourites but their team-mate Cai Zelin, who had finished fourth in London 2012, eventually stepped out of their shadow.
Zelin had been second to Dmytrenko in this year's Grand Prix in Lugano, Switzerland, where Heffernan was fifth and he took silver yesterday in 78:52, seven seconds ahead of Russia's former world junior champion Andrey Ruzavin.
Donegal's Brendan Boyce (Letterkenny), who was 28th on his London Olympic debut and now trains with Heffernan in Cork, was next best of the Irish, finishing 77th in 86.55.
UCC student Luke Hickey (19), whom Heffernan now also coaches, knocked nine seconds off his personal best when he finished 80th in 87.51.
And Westport's Cian McManamon, who is in the middle of his final business exams in the University of Limerick, finished 84th (88:51) in the 112-man field which saw eight disqualifications.
Dmytrenko's previous best global results had been fourth at World Cup two years ago and twice seventh at World Championships and he described his victory as "a miracle".
It was not just his country's first global gold in race walking but with team-mates taking seventh and 10th, Ukraine also won their first team gold, edging out the event's superpowers.
Asked if Ukraine's current political problems have affected him, or made yesterday's historic double gold particularly special, he said: "I want to stress that Ukraine is a united country, we are inseparable and we have shown this in our teamwork today."
China and Japan took the minor team medals and Ivanov's disqualification contributed to Russia only finishing fifth in the team standings, behind Canada, for whom Evan Dunfee set a new national record of 80:13.