CORK’S ROBERT HEFFERNAN walked away with his head held high after just missing out on an Olympic medal in the men’s 50km walk on Saturday morning.
Now a veteran and competing at his fourth Games Heffernan came closer than ever before when he finished fourth, smashing his Irish record and personal best by more than seven minutes.
“I’ve dreamed of a medal but I think I was inside the old Olympic record and I just couldn’t do any more,” he told TheScore.ie afterwards.
“It’s just disappointing. It’s disappointing I didn’t win a medal but when I look back at it, I’ll be very happy with the championships. To top it off with a medal would have been unbelievable.”
At the end of a gruelling 50 kilometres, his time of 3:37:54 was less than two minutes behind gold medal winner Sergey Kirdyapkin of Russia who set a new Olympic record of 3:35:39.
Australia’s Jared Tallent finished second in 3:36:53 while Tianfeng Si of China took bronze with a time of 3:37:16.
Another of the Irish competitors, Brendan Boyce, walked a personal best to finish 29th while Leitrim’s Colin Griffin was disqualified with a little more than 10km to go in the race.
The result capped another excellent Olympic campaign for Heffernan, 34, who finished ninth with a season’s best time in the 20km event last week. He started the race slowly but although he dropped off the leading group before the first five kilometre split, he felt that he got his race tactics spot on to leave himself with enough energy to make up ground in the latter stages.
“I think other people were more panicky than me,” he told Will Downing. “My pace at the start was really good.
“Always you’ve a big group going off and the dynamics, if you look at any Olympics, it never stays together so I had to control my own race. I had to have reserves at 30km to be able to come through and challenge over the last 20km.
“The race is 31 miles so being off for 10, 15 miles might look worse than what it is but the end result is what matters.
I got to a point after 25km — I had to get to that point and I had a look at my time and I was looking at my heart rate. I had a lot in reserve and I was trying to fuel as much as possible and make sure that I was taking on enough carbohydrates and everything for the second half of the race.
That was always my plan. I wanted to be competitive over the last 15km when people would be dying. The crowd was unbelievable, I’ve never ever ever experienced anything like it. I’m disappointed I didn’t win a medal for Ireland, you know.
It worked. Between the 35km and 40km markers, Heffernan had the fastest split time of any athletes in the field as he dragged himself into the top 10 and up to eighth place with the final 10km to go.
“You’re getting information all the way through the race but you’re still concentrating lap by lap, and then I was concentrating 5km by 5km with the athlete in front so you’re breaking the race down all the time.
“Then when the race started getting tough you’re concentrating on each kilometre, making sure your splits are still there. And then when you realise you’re still getting faster, you’re just feeding off the positive of everything — feeding off the positivity of the crowd, feeding off the positivity when you think that you’re dying that you’re actually after getting quicker. You can’t look too far ahead because the race is too long.”
The raucous Irish support who lined the course on the Mall was a massive boost as well, he added.
“It was unbelievable. I’d like to thank everybody so much today. The support was unbelievable, I’ve never experienced anything like it. The race went so fast, I enjoyed the whole lot of it. I’d fierce energy from it, I’ve never felt anything like it before. It’s great, I’d love to have it every race.”
Along with two fourth-place finishes at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona, today’s near miss is the third time that Heffernan has seen a major championship medal slip just out of reach.
Although he’ll be 38 by the time the next Olympics rolls around in Rio, he’s not making any plans to hang up his walking shoes just yet.
I’m after making massive improvements again this year and I’m more mature mentally now as well for competing. I came here to win a medal. To go out and perform in the both events and come close is very encouraging.
I’ll keep going, I’m still in good nick.