Robert Heffernan falls short in 5km walk

50km walk world champion finds shorter distance a real test at Cork City Sports

This was a sprint when he's aiming for more than a full marathon distance longer, although Robert Heffernan was still thrown a little off track in Cork last night.

Competing at home for the first time since his World Championship gold medal in Moscow last summer, Heffernan finished fourth in the 5km walk at the Cork City Sports. As he said himself he "just doesn't like being beaten".

It was his last race before next month’s European Championships in Zurich, where Heffernan will be back on the road and the more comfortable 50km distance. However, unlike this time last summer when Heffernan signed off for Moscow with a victory in Cork, it wasn’t the perfect send off, even if it was still the perfect sharpening exercise.

Altitude training

“Well I am in the middle of very hard training,” said a slightly disappointed looking Heffernan, who interrupted his altitude training in Spain for a special appearance at the


Cork IT

track in Bishopstown. “And when you’re doing 120 miles a week in training, moving down to 5k can be a massive a shock to the system. But still I did walk faster than I did her last year, so I have to be happy with that.”

Indeed Heffernan's time of 11:09.08 did improve his personal best of 11:11.94 set here last year, only this time he found three athletes finish ahead of him: the Australian Dane Bird-Smith, formerly a mountain running specialist, took the victory in 10:56.23, ahead of Kevin Campion from France (10:58.16), with Cork's Alex Wright – who is actually coached by Heffernan – taking third in 10:58.47.

‘Bright future’

“Yeah, I coach Alex and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him,” added Heffernan, who took little consolation by the fact his time also improved his world masters record, which he set here last year. “And I also invited Dane and Kevin to be here because I wanted to make sure it was a competitive race. So overall I have to be happy, especially with my time, and it’s about sharpening up for Zurich from here on.”

At 36, it’s hardly surprising that Heffernan found it difficult to stick with the younger legs over 5km on the track, although it’s another timely reminder too that he certainly won’t have it all his own way in Zurich, those European Championships now just four weeks away.

Earlier, Thomas Barr went in the 400m hurdles having twice broken the Irish record in recent weeks – lowering it to a world-class 48.80, still the third fastest in Europe this summer. Here, Barr came up against some truly world-class opposition, including Javier Culson from Puerto Rico, the Olympic bronze medallist and two-World Championship silver medallists.

Indeed Culson showed all of that class when winning in 48.41 seconds, a meeting record, with American champion Johnny Dutch next home in 49.27. Still, Barr chased hard to clock 49.95 in third, in not ideal conditions.

“I’d like to have run a little faster,” said Barr, “and there was a strong wind back stretch. But this was top-class field, and that’s what I was looking for, a really high calibre race like this, and that’s all part of the experience in the weeks before Zurich.”

Longer distance

Like Heffernan,

Fionnuala Britton

is also targeting a longer distance in Zurich, and dropped down from 10,000m – where she finished fourth at the last European Championships – to compete over 3,000m. And like Heffernan she found the pace a little too hot to handle, finishing third in 9:01.04. Newly crowned American collegiate champion

Marielle Hall

took the win in 8:54.48, ahead of the Australian

Melissa Duncan

, who ran 8:58.14. And again Britton will feel the need for some improvement if she is to be in the medal mix in Zurich.

Another of the headline races, the men's mile, went to the American Kyle Merber, who ran an impressive 3:56.74, with the best of the Irish being Kevin Batt, who ran 4:01.81.

Phil Healy looked to have run a lifetime best of 11.36 seconds when finishing second in the women's 100 metres, just short of the American Cleo Van Buren, who ran 11.35, but those times were ruled out for record purposes due to the tailwind of +3m.

Sarah Lavin also finished a close second in the 100m hurdles, running 13.30 seconds, just off the winning time of 13.20 for England's Serita Solomon.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics