Robert Heffernan is not the first Irish race walker to suffer disappointment on the streets of England's capital city. After 3hr 37min 54sec of toil in the heat and high humidity of London, the 34-year-old Corkman crossed the finish line on The Mall a tantalising one place and 38 seconds short of a medal in the men's 50km walk.
"I'm gutted," Heffernan said, as the Russian Sergey Kirdyapkin celebrated gold in an Olympic record 3:35.29, with Jared Talent of Australia taking silver and China's Si Tianfeng bronze. "I did everything right, but that's sport. There were 10 to 15 guys who wanted to win medals today and I finished fourth. What can you do?"
At least the Irishman managed to avoid a red card from the judges – unlike Abraham Stoker when he travelled from Dublin to compete in the five-mile walk at the Civil Service Athletics Championships in London in 1868. The 20-year-old finished comfortably clear of his rivals in 40min 5sec but was subsequently disqualified for "lifting" – allowing his feet to break contact with the ground.
The committee members of the Civil Service Athletics Society were so taken by his performance that they presented him with a silver goblet "in appreciation of a gallant struggle" but Stoker was so gutted by his first and only defeat he decided to move on to other things.
He became a writer – better known as Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.
It was a bit of a horror show out on the 2km circuit yesterday. Of the 63 starters, 12 failed to get to the finish line. Eight suffered the same fate as Bram Stoker, DQs for lifting. Four wilted in the oppressive conditions.
The one British representative, Dominic King, made it round the gruelling 25 laps, but as last of the 51 finishers, in 4:15.05. The 29-year-old was not helped by an early warning from the judges – walkers get three strikes before a red card.
"It did affected me," King confessed. "Coming into the race my priority was to finish, as I have in the past had issues with getting disqualified. I have been working on that for the last 18 months to two years.
"I didn't do too badly. It was my third fastest time ever. Medals were never going to be a question but I feel like I got my own just by getting the biggest cheer of the day."