Robert Heffernan of Togher Athletic Club delivered a stunningly brilliant performance in London this morning when finishing fourth in the men’s 50km Olympic Race Walk in 3:37.54, a time that shattered his own Irish record.
The race was won by Sergey Kirdyapkin of Russia in 3:35.59, an Olympic record and Heffernan’s fourth place finishing time was a massive improvement on his previous personal best time of 3:45.30. In fact, Heffernan’s time would have won Gold in any other previous Olympic Games other than Beijing where the time would have been good enough to win the silver medal.
Heffernan started out cautiously in today’s event which took place in hot conditions and it was only in the final fifteen kilometres that he started to make his mark as he chased the leaders down over the final kilometres. At the finish, Heffernan was just thirty eight seconds adrift of bronze medal winner, Tianfeng Si of China (3:37.16) and showing terrific fighting spirit all the way to the finish line, he held off the pressing challenge of Igor Erokhim of Russia who placed fifth.
There was huge Irish support for Hefffernan and the other two Irish participants, Colin Griffin and Brendan Boyce all around the two kilometre course on the Mall, in the shadow of Buckingham Palace. The race walkers had to complete twenty five laps of the flat and fast surface and the race turned into an epic battle for the top places - with Heffernan coming agonisingly close to fulfilling his long cherished dream of winning an Olympic medal.
“I wanted to win an Olympic medal and I did everything I could,” an emotionally drained Robert Heffernan said. “It’s hard to finish fourth after I dreamed all year about winning a medal in the Olympics. It’s tough coming away with fourth, but I’ll be happy with it.”
“The crowd was unbelievable, even at the end, to hold off that Russian, I did not want to let anyone down.”
The reception that Robert Heffernan received from the Irish supporters at the finish will have gone a long way to reassure him that he let nobody down. This was an exceptionally brilliant performance, laced with outstanding courage and huge determination.
There was a positive outcome too for Brendan Boyce who placed 29th in 3:55.1, a personal best for the young Letterkenny A.C athlete who looks to have a bright future ahead in the sport. However, there was heartache for Colin Griffin who was disqualified close to 40 kilometres due to technical infringements.
From an Irish point of view, the day belonged to Robert Heffernan whose stirring performance on the Mall in London will be long remembered. “This was a brilliant and uplifting performance and Irish athletics needed something like this today”: John Treacy, Irish Sports Council CEO, said.