| Robert Heffernan celebrates his win with wife Marian, in Moscow, on Wednesday |
Moscow: Guts, guile and no lack of self-belief propelled Irishman Robert Heffernan to 50km race walk victory on Wednesday, spoiling the Russian party one day after Yelena Isinbayeva’s wildly-celebrated pole vault triumph.
The Luzhniki stadium, as it has been on every morning of the world championships, was short on fans — in contrast to the previous evening when the stands rocked with appreciation after the Isinbayeva show.
While the Russian enjoyed the cheers of a nation, the 35-year-old Heffernan had the one supporter who mattered most as he scooped Ireland’s first world gold in 18 years. He clocked 3:37:56 seconds.
“My wife is here with me and we are so happy,” he said with understatement after denying the hosts a clean sweep of the walks after they took gold in both 20km events earlier in the week.
“I believed I could be the winner,” he added after a career of near medal misses.
“It was very tough but I tried to stay positive. The last 10km are like a crucifixion.”
India’s Basanta Bahadur Rana finished 33rd with a timing of 3:58:20seconds.With no evening session on Wednesday as the nine-day championships take a breather, the walk and a handful of qualifying represented thin fare.
Two long-jump champions at opposite ends of their careers experienced contrasting fortunes, with Briton’s Olympic winner Greg Rutherford failing to reach the final and ‘golden oldie’ Dwight Phillips continuing his dream of a last hurrah.
Rutherford declared himself fit at the last minute for the championships after suffering a hamstring tear five weeks ago, but his best of 7.81 metres on Wednesday fell short.
“I just didn’t have what it took out there today. Believe me, I gave everything,” the 26-year-old said. “My last training session, I had it two days ago and it felt fantastic.”
American Phillips, 35, postponed his retirement for a year to try and become the first US athlete to win five individual world championship titles in the same event.
“Today my body felt great. Once you are in the final anything can happen,” Phillips, world champion in 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2011, said after a season’s best effort of 7.95.
Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat battled it out for 1,500 metres gold and silver two years ago in Daegu, South Korea, and both eased into Friday’s semi-finals with wins in the heats.
Kiprop is favourite to defend his title after clocking a stunning 3:27.72 in Monaco on July 19, putting him fourth on the all-time list, but he guarded against complacency.