Saturday 29 April 2017

Heffernan tipped for stardom after medal agony

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

ROBERT Heffernan's extraordinary fourth-place performance in yesterday's 50km walk final, only his second race ever over the distance, has marked him out as a serious contender for World and Olympic medals.

So says the man widely accepted to be the 'Pele' of race-walking.

Multiple Olympic and World gold medallist Robert Korzeniowski, who coached Heffernan up to two years ago, was one of the first to congratulate the seemingly inexhaustible Togher walker after his second fourth place in three days.

"I am very impressed by Robert, with his focus especially and, at 50km, he is a potential medallist, no doubt," Korzeniowski said.

After lowering his Irish record from 3:50.08 to 3:45.30 the tiny, teak-tough Corkman revealed that the famous Pole gave him some good advice after Tuesday's 20km disappointment.

"He told me 'you need to think like a winner' and when I got up to that lead group (at the 30km mark) I was thinking 'OK, they've lapped me but this is the same as going for a medal'," the delighted Corkman revealed.

"I was looking at the Russians thinking 'they're not better than me'.

"Who knows if I went earlier? I finished the fastest over the whole field so this is going to give me massive confidence."

Heffernan was 67 seconds faster than the winner over the final 15km but still couldn't catch Pole Grzegorz (3:42.24) and Russia's Sergey Bakulin (3:43.26), who took the minor medals well adrift of France's defending champion Yohann Diniz (3:40.37).

His late decision to 'double up' was not taken lightly and he thanked two people in particular -- a former Mexican race-walker who is married to former Irish international Jeff Cassin and Cork masseur Liam O'Reilly -- for their contributions.

On the eve of the race, Cassin worked out an impeccable drinks strategy "and I never ran out of fuel".

"If I have the proper set-up and am able to train professionally all year round and have good help I can do this," grinned Heffernan.

Ballinamore's Colin Griffin also did well to finish 11th in a season-best 3:57.58, especially considering that almost half (12 of 27) of the field dropped out.

European Championships

Live, RTE2 9.0am, 6.0pm; BBC2 10.0 am, 5.45pm; Eurosport 9.0am, 3.15pm

IRISH IN ACTION TODAY ( all Irish times).

9.45 -- 4x100m heats: Ireland women.

10.20 -- 4x400m heats: Ireland men.

11.50 -- 4x400m heats: Ireland women.

18.05 -- Women's 100m hurdles

semi-finals: Derval O'Rourke (first).

19.25 - Women's 100m hurdles final.

20.20 -- Men's 5000m final: Alistair Cragg.

Irish Independent

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