Athletics: Olympic hopefuls walk qualifying tightrope in Russia
A LONG-haul trip to one of the industrial centres of Russia yesterday could yet result in Athletics Ireland having another 'marathon' selection dilemma on their hands.
It took three flights -- from Dublin via Amsterdam and Moscow -- for Ireland's elite race walkers to reach the venue for this weekend's prestigious IAAF World Cup, the biggest event in international walking every year outside of World or European championships.
Saransk, on the south-eastern frontier, is a full 400 miles east of Moscow, six hours away by car; it is the home of Russian race walking, which is of the sport's superpowers.
The Irish team got there in an hour yesterday thanks to an internal flight and every second of rest was treasured by the three athletes, for whom this is their last chance of Olympic qualification.
Robert Heffernan (Togher) and Brendan Boyce (Letterkenny) secured the 50km standard -- three hours and 58 minutes -- over the winter, but this is the last chance for Jamie Costin (West Waterford), Colin Griffin (Ballinamore) and Micheal Doyle (Tara AC) to do so.
If two, or all three, of them succeed then the selectors are going to face a tough decision because, as with marathon running, Ireland can only enter three athletes in the event in London.
All three of the 'possibles' already tried to reach the standard in March, and Griffin (29) came heartbreakingly close.
He and Costin (34) raced in the Dudince Grand Prix where Boyce finished in a 3:57.53 personal best.
Griffin was on track until he got disqualified with just 8km left while Costin, who suffers badly in hot conditions, dropped out after 32km.
Doyle, who is from Meath, is a dark horse. He is still young -- he turns 25 next week -- by walking standards and only moved up to the longer distance this year.
His only previous 50km was in Spain in early March which he did not finish, but he has been training hard in Malaga since and is hoping to throw down the gauntlet here to the two more experienced men.
For inspiration they should look no further than Heffernan.
He finished fourth in both the 20km and 50km at the 2010 European Championships. That was only his third race at the 50km distance -- which, at 31 miles, is five longer than a marathon -- and he did it just two days after racing in the 20km, a phenomenal endurance display.
Heffernan is contemplating doubling up in London but, like Boyce, will only race the 20km this weekend.
Ireland's 2009 World silver medallist and genuine Olympic contender Olive Loughnane (Loughrea) will be using this to measure her 20km form.
And Mohill's Laura Reynolds is hoping to get the 20km 'A' standard (1:33.30) after a recent 1:34.40 personal best.
Among the junior team, who race over 10km, is West Waterford's 2011 World Youth champion Kate Veale, Emma Prendiville (Farranfore Maine), James Treanor (Shercock) and Luke Hickey (Leevale).