Sunday 25 March 2018

Off The Ball: Doping question 'a dagger' through Heffernan's heart

Rob Heffernan (SPORTSFILE)
Rob Heffernan (SPORTSFILE)

Joe Molloy

This summer, at the ripe old age of 38, Cork's Rob Heffernan will compete in his fifth Olympic Games. No small achievement. Indeed it will be an Irish record and one likely to stand for some time.

Next week, once the Court of Arbitration for Sport rubber-stamp their findings, he will win a bronze Olympic medal in the 50km walk. It will have a London 2012 inscription, and arrive minus the podium glory.

The Russian who took gold four years ago is finally set to be wiped from the records; he's one of those systematic doping types. He's also back competing by the way, so not everything in the garden is rosy. This is the world that Heffernan is forced to inhabit.

We had him in studio last night. He is strikingly aware of the questions which can sometimes swirl around him, given his success in a sport rife with cheats. How, I asked, does Rob Heffernan cleanly beat dopers? He nodded, not unfamiliar with the sentiment: "Because I can only pull out one of those performances a year. I have to periodise my training all year. I have to rest right. These fellas can come out and race again and again. I get one [chance]. And then I'm spent. If you can get to a point where you get all of the work done without getting injured, without getting sick, you can get to the start line as good as them."

Heffernan recalled an incident from a night out back in 2012. "You have rumours. It is very, very upsetting. Very upsetting. A very good friend of mine, who I grew up with, asked me after London was I doping. Even now, it's one of the most hurtful things that was ever said to me in all of my life. It was a dagger through my heart."

Heffernan shudders at the thought of the Russians competing in Rio. He has improved steadily throughout his career. He finished 28th in the Sydney Games back in 2000. Sickness struck in Athens in 2004 and he was ultimately disqualified.

In Beijing he took a major step forward, finishing eighth. In London, he finished fourth, beating two Russian dopers who came home fifth and sixth. It all comes down to 2016. Rio is Rob Heffernan's last big chance to put right some wrongs and injustices.

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