Heffernan primed for 50km
MEN'S AND WOMEN'S RACE WALKS TODAY, 9AM AND 5PM:EVEN AS these Olympics are winding down, they’re still heating up, and for some of us there is still a very long road ahead. Six Irish athletes left, and between them they’ll have to cover almost 150 miles by foot – or 232.2km, to be exact – in only light clothing and very thin-soled shoes.
If the moisture on the back of my T-shirt right now is anything to go by, then the last thing anyone would fancy here tomorrow is a 50km walk, in and around The Mall and Buckingham Palace, but truth is Rob Heffernan can’t wait.
After his ninth-place finish in the 20km event last Saturday, Heffernan is primed for his now preferred distance, even if he won’t be quite as experienced over 50km as some of his chief rivals.
What he won’t have to worry about is the presence of defending champion Alex Schwazer, from Italy, who was sent home last week after testing positive for EPO.
Heffernan is joined by Colin Griffin and Brendan Boyce, Griffin back for some redemption after his disqualification in Beijing, while Boyce is making his Olympic debut. If Heffernan can last the pace he will last the distance, but will probably need to improve his best of 3:45.30 to have a chance of medalling.
But he has a chance, and so too does Olive Loughnane when she goes in the women’s 20km, over the same 20km loop, later this afternoon. Seventh in Beijing, and now aged 36, the World Championship silver medallist from 2009 faces a tough task to rediscover her best form, but there will be no lack of effort. “I don’t know what my limit is,” she says, “because I know I haven’t reached it yet. Tomorrow I’m going to find out.”
She’ll be joined there by Laura Reynolds, in her first Olympics, and adding an extra responsibility for Griffin on the day in that he actually coaches her, too. After all that, the last Irish athlete in action, at 11am tomorrow, is Mark Kenneally, in the men’s marathon.
He definitely won’t win a medal, but can improve his best of 2:13:55, and if he does that, Kenneally will certainly be competitive with the best of the Europeans – yet like most of them still some way off the all-conquering Africans.
So, after a mostly underwhelming show from the Irish athletes inside the Olympic Stadium, the last of the medal hopes lie on the streets of London, and truth is only a medal would make up for the disappointments elsewhere.
The obvious danger in staging a postmortem before the thing is dead is it could all very suddenly spring back to life, although it’s not like the Irish athletes have been hiding out in their rooms, in the Olympic Village, feeling sorry for themselves.