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Heffernan calls time on epic career


Robert Heffernan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Robert Heffernan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Robert Heffernan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The truth had been staring him in the face for some time, it just took Rob Heffernan a while to confront it.

Yesterday the 40-year-old officially called time on his decorated race walking career, one which spanned three decades, featured one Olympic medal, one world title and no shortage of hurt and heartache.

"Age catches up with everybody," he said. "I always said once I felt there was no more room for improvement I was never going to be a journeyman. I could have hung on and collected my full grant and still gone to the Olympics in 2020, but nah - I said I'm not going to be that."

In truth, the beginning of the end occurred at last year's World Championships in London, Heffernan crossing the line eighth in the 50km walk and admitting that it was likely his final bow.

"On paper, it was a good result but I knew I wasn't the same, I needed a break. The last few years were tough, I was training really hard and little by little I felt it was dwindling and the animal was gone."

In the winter, to allow himself some mental detachment from the obsession that enveloped him for so long, Heffernan signed up for RTé's 'Dancing with the Stars', continuing to churn out the miles while doing the show in Dublin, one eye still trained on competing at this year's Europeans in Berlin. But as it turned out neither the mind nor body was still willing, at least not to the extent he needed.

"The priorities started changing. It wasn't life and death anymore, it wasn't the be all and end all and I wanted to spend more time with my family. I probably got a little bit softer too."

When he looks back, the two places forever imbued with the sweetest memories will be London and Moscow. At the 2012 Olympics, Heffernan produced the performance of his life to cross the line fourth in 3:37:54, and only years later would he be upgraded to third when winner Sergey Kirdyapkin was retrospectively banned for doping. The following year, he beat the Russians on their own turf in Moscow, the crowning achievement of his career the World Championships gold he won over 50km in 3:37:56.

"Moscow was a reward for my whole life; you think of all the missed days and the tragedy stories of finishing fourth with fellas doping in front of me, and to get it right and get the year perfect, it was the pinnacle of everything."

Now that race walking is part of his past, Heffernan will take up a position with Bank of Ireland as a retail banking ambassador in the Munster region, but he's not likely to be lost to the sport as he's also in talks with Athletics Ireland CEO Hamish Adams about working with the next generation.

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"Athletics is in a good state now and I think it's good I've moved on," he said. "I don't think it's good for the sport to be relying on someone my age for positivity."

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