Top-five finish a welcome tonic for thrilled Heffernan
It wasn't quite what he wanted, but one year out from the Olympic Games in Rio, it was just what Rob Heffernan needed as he finished fifth in the 50km race walk in Beijing yesterday.
The 37-year-old was unable to retain his world title, eventually fading out of the medals to finish in 3:44.55, but he walked away with his head held high.
"In relative terms, this is a medal for me," said Heffernan, who underwent surgery twice since his failure to finish at the European Championships in Zurich last summer, his most recent procedure in May costing him five weeks' training. "To finish fifth after the problems I've had shows my resolve. If I'm not injured, I can grind out a good result."
From the start, Slovakia's Matej Toth stamped his authority on the race and set off alone at the front. Heffernan, who was a given a couple of cautions by the judges, took the conservative option, nestling among the chasing pack.
"If I was a bit stronger and confident, I could have gone off with Matej, but you have to be realistic," said Heffernan (right), who found himself in a fight for the minor medals at the 40km mark with Australia's Jared Tallent and Japanese duo Takayuki Tanii and Hirooki Arai. However, he faded as competitors struggled through the final circuits in the shadow of the Bird's Nest Stadium.
"At 40k I thought a medal was possible," he said, "but my legs started cramping up and I thought, 'I have to finish here'. I had to stay positive and thought, 'Okay, fifth in the world is still very, very solid going into the Olympics.' Today wasn't 100 per cent; it was 95 per cent. It was tough, but I'm delighted. Next year with more consistency, I've no doubt I'll be up in the hunt for an Olympic medal. This will hopefully consolidate that I'm still world-class, because people work off statistics and you could be cut [from funding] so today I've proved I can be back up there with the best."
There was disappointment, meanwhile, for Ireland's other 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.
The Irish men's 4x400m relay team - Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy Thomas Barr and Mark English - broke the national record, finishing eighth in their semi-final in 3:01.26.
"We've come on an awful lot as a team and we had the much harder semi today," said Barr. "We came through strong. The ultimate aim is to get ourselves to Rio and be competitive."
The run meant the team finished 13th 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. "Today we were up against one of the toughest 4x400 competitions the world has ever seen."
Elsewhere on the track, Mo Farah continued his dominance in the 5,000m as he outsprinted Kenya's Caleb Ndiku to complete his third global championship double in four years.
"Tonight I had to dig deep," said Farah. "I felt a bit tired and the others really went for it."
And Usain Bolt anchored Jamaica home in the men's 4x100m relay final in 37.36 seconds after the USA botched their last changeover while in the lead. The noise reached deafening levels as China took a surprise bronze medal. In the men's decathlon, Ashton Eaton broke his own world record with a tally of 9,045 points, a performance capped by his 45.00-second run in the 400m.
Sunday Indo Sport