Friday 20 September 2019

'Am I dreaming?' - Ireland's Rob Heffernan expected to be upgraded to Olympic bronze

Rob Heffernan with team manager Patsy McGonigle after finishing fourth during the 50km walk at London 2012
Rob Heffernan with team manager Patsy McGonigle after finishing fourth during the 50km walk at London 2012

Cliona Foley

Ireland's top race-walker Robert Heffernan is set to be upgraded to an Olympic bronze medal thanks to the investigation that has rocked athletics and could yet see Russia's track and field team banned from next summer's Rio Olympics.

A 335-page report by an independent commission confirmed that Russian athletics has operated a "long-standing" state-supported systematic doping regime.

Heffernan, who won the world 50km title in 2013, finished fourth in the Olympic 50km the previous summer and the winner, Russia's Sergey Kirdyapkin, who smashed the Olympic record, has since been banned. Kirdyapkin's results for August 2012 were not touched but this is still under investigation.

Yesterday's report stressed that six Russian athletes who were manipulating their blood were allowed to compete in London and noted that "two of them won Olympic medals".

This appears to refer to Kirdyapkin and other details that the report provides on him should help the IAAF strip him of his Olympic gold. They are already trying to do this at a hearing in the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) on December 3-4.

Heffernan, who trained as usual last night, refused to comment publicly and it is understood his reticence is because does not want to make any definitive comment until the CAS case is resolved.

However, he used his Twitter account to say: "I might go back to sleep or am I dreaming? #olympicmedal" and changed his profile to describe himself as 'World champion, European champion, Olympic medallist in waiting'.

This is not the first time that Heffernan has finished behind a Russian opponent who was retrospectively banned. The Cork star was fourth over 20km at the 2010 European Championships and was upgraded to bronze last year when the winner - another Russian - was caught.

The last two years had confirmed that Russia's elite race-walking centre was rife with blood doping and 19 of their top walkers are currently banned.

But yesterday's report blew the lid off the systemic nature of doping and corruption across all of Russian athletics and said they had effectively "sabotaged the London Olympics".

The report has also seriously damaged the credibility of the IAAF, saying there was "corruption and bribery at the highest level of international athletics" and that the IAAF repeatedly delayed acting against suspicious athletes which allowed them to take part in London 2012.

Irish Independent

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