Golden boy Rob's a big hit with Russian hosts
HE HAS only just picked up his gold medal, but Rob Heffernan jokes he is now receiving more respect from his rivals than the fastest man on earth, Olympic champion Usain Bolt.
The 35 year old from Cork collected his gold medal at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow yesterday after his historic win on Wednesday, when he took the top prize in the 50km race walk at the World Championships in a time of 3hrs 37mins 56secs.
He is now basking in his new-found status in the home of race walking. "I'm in the same hotel as Usain Bolt, but I'm getting more respect off the Russians," he laughed.
The slim 5ft 7in athlete has the honour of being just one of three world champions in Irish Athletics history. He tried race walking for the first time as a boy when he was in school.
"It was just another race for me to win," he said. "I wanted to be 6ft 4in and run 400m or whatever, but this is what I was given." He also told how he nearly collapsed at the finish line on Wednesday, but forced himself to continue. "Coming into the stadium was like: 'Oh my God I am going to win,' it was unbelievable," he said.
"I started celebrating, but then my stomach took a turn and I was going to get sick. I thought I was going to collapse and I thought: 'Oh no boy, you are going to faint, you're not going to make it to the finish line'."
Then with 200m to go, he roused himself. "I looked at the clock and I was going: 'My God that's so fast, you could break the Irish record here, stop celebrating Rob, put the boot down'. I just missed the Irish record by two seconds. But it was great. I didn't take anything for granted." His finishing time was the second-fastest in the history of the World Championship 50km walk finals. Last year he finished fourth in the London Olympics.
Rob will arrive home today, landing at Dublin Airport at 5.10pm. He will be travelling home with his wife and coach Marian, who is four months pregnant with the couple's third child, and fellow Irish athlete Brendan Boyce. Thousands are expected to line Cork's streets to welcome him. He will greet fans from an open top bus scheduled to make its way down St Patrick's Street sometime after 9pm.