Rob Heffernan finishes fifth but insists: "In relative terms, this is a medal for me"
Rob Heffernan’s hopes of retaining his world title came apart over the final 10km of the 50km race walk in Beijing this morning, the 37-year-old eventually finishing an exhausted fifth in 3:44:55.
Slovakia’s Matej Toth was a convincing winner in 3:40:32, coming home almost two minutes clear of Australia’s Jared Tallent. For Heffernan, though, fifth place was not met with the disappointment you might expect from a previous world champion.
“In relative terms, this is a medal for me,” said the Togher athlete, who underwent surgery twice on hernias since his failure to finish at the European Championships in Zurich last summer, his most recent procedure in May having cost him five weeks of training.
“To finish fifth after the problems I’ve had this year shows my resolve. If I’m healthy and not injured, I can always grind out a good result.”
Heffernan led the chase behind Toth for much of the second half of the race and when the field reached the final 10 kilometres, he was still fighting for the minor medals with Japan’s Takayuki Tanii, Hirooki Arai and Tallent.
“At 40K I thought this was possible,” said Heffernan, “but my legs started cramping up, my quads and my arms too, and I thought I have to finish here. I had to stay positive, and thought fifth in the world is still very, very solid going into the Olympics.
“That result will hopefully consolidate that I’m still world class. Today wasn’t 100pc; it was 95 percent but I was able to grind something out. Next year, with more consistency in my training, I’ve no doubt I’ll be up in the hunt for an Olympic medal again.”
There was disappointment, meanwhile, for Ireland’s other two competitors. Brendan Boyce was disqualified before the 40km point after receiving his third warning, while Alex Wright stepped off the course shortly after with injury problems.
There was better news for the men’s 4x400m team of Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy, Thomas Barr and Mark English, who broke the national record when finishing eighth in their semi-final this morning.
“We’ve come on an awful lot as a team, and we had the much harder semi today,” said Barr. “We came through strong and the ultimate aim is to get ourselves to Rio and be competitive.”
The performance means the team finished 13th in the world, a result will boost their chances of making the Olympics next year, for which they will need to be ranked among the top 16 in the world.
“If everyone can get into perfect shape next year there’s no reason we can’t make an Olympic final,” said English. “We were up against one of the toughest 4x400 competitions the world has ever seen.”
Brian Murphy made his world championships debut on the second leg and the Crusaders athlete was pleased with the team’s performance. “It was fun, confusing, disorientating, exciting and scary, but this is what dreams are made of,” he said.
“We were the only European team in our semi-final. The Americans and Jamaicans are professional athletes and we’re not playing at their level in terms of resources. Thirteenth in the world is a big deal. We could have had a little more luck with the change-overs today, but this team can go faster.”
Brian Gregan, who led the team off from lane nine, was also happy with the performance. “The first leg is always difficult to measure but I did my best out there,” he said. “Before Zurich last year we could only dream of running 3:01 and to think an Irish team almost ran 3:00 here is astonishing.”
“We want to keep this team on an upward curve and keep it going to Rio and beyond. The plan needs to start now.”