Robert Heffernan finished a fighting fifth in the men’s 50km race walk in 3:44:17 in a brave bid to defend his world title at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing while the men’s 4x400m relay team set a new national record.
Heffernan (Togher) was in the thick of the action for a medal for much of the race won impressively by Slovakia’s Matej Toth in 3:40:32. Australia’s Jared Tallent was second in 3:42:17 while Japan’s Takayuki Tanii was third in 3:42:55 with his compatriot Hirooki Arai fourth in 3:43:44.
“For me to finish fifth after the problems I’ve had this year, it shows my resolve,” said Heffernan afterwards on dealing with his injury problems. “If I’m healthy and not injured, I can always grind out a good result. In relevant terms, this is a medal for me.
“At 40k I thought this was possible, then even with 3K to go the Japanese were still in my sights, but my legs started cramping up, my quads and my arms and I thought, ‘I have to finish here.’ Fifth in the world is still very, very solid going into the Olympics.”
Unfortunately Brendan Boyce (Letterkenny) was disqualified and Alex Wright (Leevale) was unable to finish.
The Irish men’s 4x400m relay team of Brian Gregan (Clonliffe Harriers), Brian Murphy (Crusaders), Thomas Barr (Ferrybank) and Mark English (UCD) produced a national record of 3:01.26 to finish 8th in the second heat and an excellent 13th overall. USA won in 2:58.13 with Trinidad and Tobago second in 2:58.67 and Jamaica third in 2:58.69.
Brian Gregan lead out the team on the first leg in lane 9 and had to keep his composure against world class opposition inside him. “I had to run my own race out there, and not panic when the guy (Jamaican) came beside me. The first leg is always difficult to measure.”
Gregan passed over to long-time Irish athletics stalwart Brian Murphy who battled well on the second leg. “This is what dreams are made of. I’m not like these guys, I’m not a super-talent, 13th in the world is a big deal, people don’t realise until you come to a world athletics championships how big the world is.”
Thomas Barr ran an excellent third leg and was encouraged by the performance as they bid to qualify for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year. “We’ve come on an awful lot as a team, and we’d a much harder semi today. We came through strong and it gave me a bit of an extra drive.”
Mark English was equally impressive, and enthused, on the anchor leg of the team’s performance. “We were up against one of the toughest 4×400 competitions the world has ever seen, there were four guys running 44 seconds in the 400m final so I think we’re all happy we got a national record and it’s something we can work off for next year.”
High Performance View
Athletics Ireland’s high Performance Director Kevin Ankrom summed up the Irish team’s championships in Beijing as having “some very positive performances and for many of our athletes, the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the year prior to the Olympics.”
Ankrom said: “Ultimately our best performers have secured some very high placings in the world order during the Championships in Beijing. Rob Heffernan is 5th in the world, Mark English 10th, Thomas Barr 11th and the relay team 13th. These are very creditable results on the world stage.
“These are very positive ratings to have achieved and provide a platform to build on for Rio with the individual performances we saw from this team meeting with our expectations. Thomas Barr had a big breakthrough this summer after winning a World University Games gold medal and returned to form, just missing out on a place in the final of the 400m hurdles. This was his first ever world championships and finished ranked 11th overall on the global stage.
“Mark English returned to form after an injury prior to the U23 championships and was able to run close to his season’s best, making a semi-final and was ranked 10th overall. The sprints and 800m are the toughest events with only one individual per lane so that has to be put into perspective to the level that both of these athletes achieved. Their global ranking afterwards has to be a testament to their development.
“This has been one of the most competitive world championships that I have seen and the larger core of the team got the opportunity to compete in their first ever world championships through the new “IAAF rankings list.” I believe that all of the athletes will agree this championship is the most valuable experience that each of them will take away from the championships and a great opportunity to build on prior to the Rio Olympics.
“We have closed out our championship campaign on a high note seeing the return of Rob Heffernan placing 5th in the 50km Race Walk after a season of fighting back into form after two in-season surgeries. Rob has put his down his mark as a contender for Rio. The men’s 4x400m relay topped off the performance by setting a new national record. This was a very important time to be achieved as there are limited opportunities for our 4x400m team to run at high level meets and we are now in a position to qualify this team for Rio.
“With regards to our ambition derived from the Strategic Plan set out in 2016, we identified 24 medal opportunities by the end of 2016. To date we have achieved 7 medals this year and 19 in total, a 80% strike rate. Later this year we have the European Cross Country Championships and moving forward into 2016 we will have the European Championships, European Youths, Olympics and then the European cross again to close out 2016. We have had a very good rate of success to date and we are supporting and providing more athletes with opportunities to strike for medals.”