Tuesday 16 January 2018

Heffernan looks on bright side as cards fall his way

Collapse of Russian Olympic champion brings karma for Irish ace and keeps him in the mix, writes Dion Fanning

Rob Heffernan found many reasons to be satisfied when he stood on the Mall in sight of Buckingham Palace and reflected on his ninth- place finish in the 20km walk last night.

Heffernan has trained with the 50km race next Saturday as his target but yesterday he recorded his second-best time in the 20k race and for a while he felt he was in contention for a medal.

In the final kilometres, Heffernan couldn't match the pace of the Chinese walker Ding Chen and he knew it. Those were the moments, at the limits of his reserves, when he used his experience and reminded himself that his best chance is next weekend.

Chen didn't need to use his experience. He came first in the Olympics yesterday as a teenager and he will celebrate his 20th birthday today as a gold medallist.

There were other satisfactions for Heffernan. In the final laps, the field was decimated. If they ever introduce video evidence into walking, nobody would finish the race as the slow-motion replays show so many contraventions of the rules.

As it was, the judges disqualified two men ahead of Heffernan. Colombian Luis Lopez received his marching orders and broke down in tears on the side of the track. The Russian Vladimir Kanaykin was also red-carded, allowing Heffernan to consider a top-five finish.

Heffernan described as "karma" the sight of the defending Olympic champion Russian Valeriy Borchin collapsed on the road.

Nobody ever knew why Borchin was allowed compete for gold in Beijing in 2008. The Russian Federation admitted he had tested positive for EPO a few months before the Games. While Heffernan put in a brave effort in Beijing, finishing ninth, Borchin closed it out to win.

He had previously been banned in 2005 after testing positive for ephedrine so there were a few who lacked sympathy for his plight as he collapsed yesterday evening.

"That's the way it goes," Heffernan said later. "It's great you know, that's the way the race unfolds and it was an extra position for me."

Heffernan was angered by stories before the Games describing the Francisco 'Paco' Fernandez, who is suspended over EPO, as his mentor when there was no professional relationship.

Yet the stories hadn't affected his performance yesterday as he put himself in a strong position early on and worked hard to stay in touch with the breakaways.

"I think it's the best way I can race. It's very simple. I've trained very hard and I said I was going to go from the gun. I was going to take control and I wasn't going to let other people dictate what I was going to do."

The early leader, Yusuke Suzuki, couldn't last the pace but Chen and Wang Zhen were controlling it and remained prominent, watching as Bertrand Moulinet made a break.

At halfway, Heffernan was five seconds behind but he swiftly closed Moulinet down and was briefly in second place.

Heffernan stayed on the pace for the next 4km but he was always aware that the Chinese and Russians could take the race away from him.

"I knew the Russians and the Chinese, they're so powerful and so fast and it was always going to be a big burn-up over the last 5k. So, I had to go hard from gun to tape. I wasn't far off top five to be honest."

In the last 5 km the Chinese took it away. Heffernan was five seconds down after 14km. When the next 2km lap was completed he was 18 seconds behind.

Chen went on to win comfortably, sashaying across the line with Erick Barrondo of Guatemala finishing ahead of Wang. Heffernan felt it was the best he could do as he came in 92 seconds behind the winner. Now he will rest and prepare for next weekend and see what karma can do.

Sunday Indo Sport

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