Russian teenager walks it but Heffernan misses out on medal

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The Independent Online

Russian teenager Stanislav Emelyanov took the first gold medal of this week's European championships with victory in the men's 20km walk yesterday.

Emelyanov finished in a time of one hour 20 minutes and 10 seconds with Italy's Alex Schwazer, Olympic champion in the 50km walk, 28 seconds behind. Portugal's Joao Vieira finished third to repeat his bronze medal of four years ago.

"I tried to catch up with Emelyanov but he was in top shape today. Now I hope to recover in time for the 50km walk," said Schwazer, who is also entered in Friday's longer event.

The 19-year-old Emelyanov, in his first year competing as a senior, was ahead at the eight kilometre mark.

He raised his arms aloft as he crossed the line after 20 laps on Barcelona's streets and was immediately handed a Russian flag, which he draped around his shoulders.

Ireland's Robert Heffernan narrowly missed out on a medal. Heffernan finished fourth in a time of one hour 21 minutes exactly, just 11 seconds behind the bronze medallist.

The 32-year-old from Cork, 15th in the World Championships in Berlin last year, was near the front of the chasing pack in the early stages but was eventually unable to stay with the pace set by the leading trio.

US sprinter Justin Gatlin, meanwhile, will return from a four-year doping ban with two races in Estonia next month, he told Reuters on Monday night.

Gatlin will launch his comeback in the 100m at Rakvere, Estonia, on 3 August and will run again five days later in Tallinn, the 2004 Olympic sprint champion said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.

"It's a relief," said Gatlin, who has not run a competitive race since June 2006. "It definitely comes earlier than I thought it would."

The 28-year-old regained his eligibility on Sunday after serving a four-year ban for a 2006 positive test for the male sex hormone testosterone and its precursors.

Many expected him to have difficulty finding races because of a Euro Meetings recommendation not to invite athletes who bring disrepute to the sport.

But organisers of the Estonian meetings, which are not members of the Euro group, said they would welcome Gatlin.

That left Gatlin scrambling to replace a lost passport before he, his mother and a coach leave for Europe this week.

"He has worked so hard to get back out there," said Jeanette Gatlin of her son.

Gatlin described the comeback races as some of the most important of his career.

"I just want to have a good show and a good standing so people will say, 'He looks good'," said Gatlin, who has been training with veteran sprint coach Loren Seagrove.

"It will be right up there on the same list with my world championships and Olympics," the 2005 world double sprint champion added.

"If I had to put them all on a bulletin board in my room or a trophy case, the photo of my first race back will, if successful, be just like that."