Sunday 21 January 2018

I won't double up in bid to break Euro duck – Heffernan

Ireland's Robert Heffernan. LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's Robert Heffernan. LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

ROB Heffernan's final race before he goes gunning for a European title to add to his world crown will be another 20km in Naumburg, Germany on May 18.

Ireland's reigning World 50km champion was a little disappointed to finish only 23rd in the rain-sodden 20km at the World Race Walking Cup in China on Sunday.

But his main focus this year is to add the European 50km title to the global one he claimed in Moscow last summer and he was encouraged by putting in an 81-minute performance on top of an 80:57 in March, the first time he has put such times back-to-back ahead of a major championship.

So far a European medal of any kind has eluded the feisty 36-year-old Togher star but he came awfully close to one in Barcelona in 2010, when he finished fourth in the 20km and 50km.

That was only his third time to race over the longer distance and alerted him to his serious potential at 50km.

He did well at both distances – ninth and fourth respectively – at the London Olympics but Heffernan won't double up in Zurich (August 12-17). It will be 50km only at the Europeans.

"When I look back at my first 50k, I did my first 35km at world record pace and I knew from that day that the potential was always there," he said.

"I could do very well over 20km at Europeans but I just don't want to jeopardise my chance in the 50."

Despite his disappointing placing in China, he said it was worth the trip.

The World Cup is the second toughest event on race-walking's calendar and, with no World Championships in 2014, it was the main one this season for the likes of strong 50km nations like China, Australia and some South Americans.

"It was definitely still worth travelling because racing at that level keeps you in touch with all the top competition," Heffernan said.

"It changes your mindset for the second half of the year to race at that level. I know what I'm up against and it'll help concentrate my mind on what I have to do in the coming months.

"Competing in the 20km at that level means I'll have that massive reserve of pace when I race the 50km."

After Germany, Heffernan will look to peak for Europeans with a block of altitude training in the Sierra Nevadas in Southern Spain.

"Myself, Marian (his wife and coach) and the kids will go out to Guadix for four to five weeks in the summer and, before Zurich, I will also go to Salzburg for some training, just like I did before Moscow," he revealed.

His best previous position in World Championships had been sixth in 2007 but he went to Russia and beat the superpowers on their home patch.

Since becoming a world champion Heffernan has organised what is a de facto national high performance walk group in his native Cork where he is coaching Donegal's 50km Olympian Brendan Boyce and UCC student Luke Hickey, who both also competed in China last weekend.

But it was Leitrim's Laura Reynolds who produced Ireland's second best result in Taicang, clinching European qualifying with 1:32.25, her second best time ever.

Irish Independent

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