Sunday 21 April 2019

Rob Heffernan getting gold ‘is phenomenal’ – wife Marian

Ireland’s newest world champion on how he ‘really enjoyed’ last lap of 50km win

Robert Heffernan celebrates winning the men's 50 km race walk final
Robert Heffernan celebrates winning the men's 50 km race walk final
Robert Heffernan celebrates winning the men's 50 km race walk final with his wife Marian
Robert Heffernan celebrates winning the men's 50 km race walk final
Robert Heffernan celebrates winning the men's 50 km race walk final with his wife Marian
Robert Heffernan celebrates winning the men's 50 km race walk final
Robert Heffernan celebrates winning the men's 50 km race walk final
Matej Toth of Slovakia (C) and Robert Heffernan of Ireland (R) lead the pack at the start of the men's 50km race walk final during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow
Robert Heffernan of Ireland comes out of the cooling mist in the men's 50 km race walk final during the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow
Robert Heffernan came agonisingly close to winning a global medal before

THE athlete wife of Ireland’s newest world champion Rob Heffernan urged her husband to “go for it” in the final stages of the gruelling 50km walk.

The minute her husband crossed the finishing line, an overjoyed Marian Heffernan ran across the stadium in Moscow this morning to congratulated her gold medallist husband.

Athlete Marian, who is part of his coaching team and , said: "I'm just delighted for Rob and our kids.

“The aim for this year was that he'd get a result here and the fact that he has come back and got the gold is just phenomenal,” she said on RTE Radio earlier today.

Before the race, Marian gave her husband Rob (35) his last drink and told him to “go for it”.

She recalled giving him his last drink and telling him to 'go for it' during the race and thinking that was her last time seeing him before he crossed the line.”

After giving him the drink, she then made her way to the stadium.

"The second I gave him the drink I just ran into the stadium and saw him cross the line.

"It was like 10 years of his work, you know just the box being ticked.

“He was unlucky in London, he was unlucky in Barcelona twice. There's been a couple of competitions where he was fourth but I just knew he could do it, he just needed a good race.

Official result from the World Race Walking
Challenge World Championships Men's 50km Walk

1. ROB HEFFERNAN (Ireland) 3:37:56 2. Mikhail Ryzhov (Russia) 3:38:58 3. Jared Tallent (Australia) 3:40:03 4. Ihor Hlavan (Ukraine) 3:40:39 5. Matej Toth (Slovakia) 3:41:07 6. Grzegorz Sudol (Poland) 3:41:20 7. Ivan Noskov (Russia) 3:41:36 8. Lukasz Nowak (Poland) 3:43:38 9. Takayuki Tanii (Japan) 3:44:26 10. Yohann Diniz (France) 3:45:18 11. Hirooki Arai (Japan) 3:45:56 12. Jesus Angel Garcia (Spain) 3:46:44 13. Serhiy Budza (Ukraine) 3:47:36 14. Ivan Trotski (Belarus) 3:47:52 15. Marco De Luca (Italy) 3:48:05 16. Chris Erickson (Australia) 3:49:41 17. Quentin Rew (New Zealand) 3:50:27 18. Claudio Villanueva (Spain) 3:50:29 19. Omar Zepeda (Mexico) 3:50:43 20. Jarkko Kinnunen (Finland) 3:50:56 21. Adrian Blocki (Poland) 3:51:00 22. Ato Ibanez (Sweden) 3:53:38 23. Koichiro Morioka (Japan) 3:53:54 24. Jean-Jacques Nkouloukidi (Italy) 3:54:00 25. BRENDAN BOYCE (Ireland) 3:54:24 26. Li Jianbo (China) 3:56:13 27. Jonathan Caceres (Ecuador) 3:56:58 28. Pedro Isidro (Portugal) 3:57:30 29. Dusan Majdan (Slovakia) 3:57:50 30. Xu Faguang (China) 3:57:54

“Nothing surprised me today, I knew if he was on, he was going to take it on."

The Togher AC athlete had his heart broken by finishing fourth in the London Olympics last year.

Today, he becomes only the third athlete, joining fellow athlete Sonia O’Sullivan (5000m, 1995) and Eamon Coghlan (5000m 1983).

 “It was a bonus that I destroyed everyone,” he said after the race.

“It’s surreal – it’s a great feeling. It’s hard to take it all in at the moment but I’m delighted.”

"When I came into the stadium it was like an out-of-body experience, I was watching myself on the big screen and thinking 'that fella looks good!' " he joked. "I really enjoyed the last lap."

In a marvellously composed early-morning display on the roads of the Russian capital the gutsy Corkman tracked the lead group for the first 20km when he was just 20 seconds off them.

Then he made his move  throwing in a fast 21.36 minute 5km to join the lead group of five men who came through half-way in 1:50:34.

It included two Russians, one Pole and France's  Yohann Diniz, a former silver medallist and two-time European champion but, 10km later, that group started to break up when the Frenchman was disqualified and Heffernan and Russia's Mikhail Ryzhov had broken away.

From there it was a case of grinding out the miles on the 2km loop in the most gruelling of all the endurance events which is five miles longer than a marathon and, for a long time, Heffernan's form looked the smoother.

“I was prepared for everything coming in to it.  I stayed very motivated this year after London,” he told RTE radio.

“I was very conscious of training harder – there was less hype for the World Championships.  I was prepared for that mentally. I went through every km beforehand tactically with my drinks and my paces.

“I said before I wanted it to be a ‘Rocky’ scenario in Moscow – I wanted to take on The Russians in Moscow and that’s what I did,” he added.

I’m very proud that an Irishman could come to Russia and beat them.”

He says that the Olympics was not a disappointment but attributes his support network – including his eight-year-old son Cathal – for the golden success he secured today.

"For the last 11 years I've been challenging for medals but never won one but my fourth in London was a great performance. I wasn't disappointed at the Olympics, I just didn't get a medal."

“The first today is the equivalent to fourth in London,” he said.

Rob said he thought of his late mother, whose death hit him hard, as he crossed the line.

“You use that stuff for strength,” he said.

Heffernan put the boot down with his fastest 5km (21:18) of the race between the 35km to 40km mark to open up a 12-second lead on Ryzhov and looked home and hosed for gold.

Australia's two-time Olympic silver medallist Jared Tallant started a remarkable comeback to climb the field into third but by the 45km mark Heffernan was still 18 seconds clear of the Russian with Tallant a further mile adrift.

But then a second yellow warning card threatened to deprive the Corkman of his long-deserved global medal.

Race walkers get two warnings for infringements and a third card yields disqualification and getting a second card meant that Heffernan, who had knocked out two consecutive 5km of 21.18 and 21.22 minutes, was in serious danger if he kept pushing the speed in his marvellous dash for glory.

But by the 48km mark he had managed to extend his led to 27 seconds and was on his way to glory and could afford to raise his hands in glory when he entered the stadium, with a full lap of the track still to be completed, powering to glory while grinning and grimacing in equal measure.

He eventually won by a 62-second margin and crossed the line in 3:37.56, the fastest time in the world this year by three minutes and just two seconds slower than his time in London last summer.

Donegal's Brendan Boyce, who has actually been coached by Heffernan this year after moving to Cork to train with him, also made a great world championship debut in the same race.

The 26-year-old from Letterkenny AC finished in 25th place in a time of 3:54.24, which knocked 37 seconds off the personal best he set when he was 29th in the Olympics last summer.

Heffernan became not only the third Irish athlete to win a world track and field title but became only the fifth Irish to win a medal at this level and continues a remarkable history of success for Irish walkers in the past decade.

Ten years ago Kerrywoman Gillian O'Sullivan won silver at the 20km at the World Championships in Paris and four years ago Galwaywoman Olive Loughnane also won silver in Berlin and, coincidentally, all three were based in Cork during their success and did a lot of their training on the roads Leeside.

Heffernan had come agonisingly close to glory before.

The time he recorded when he was fourth in London last summer would actually have won the silver the Beijing Olympics and gold at all previous Olympic 50kms and in 2010 he was actually fourth in both the 20km and 50km at the European Championships in Barcelona. He was also 9th in the 20k race at the London Olympics, a week before he was fourth.

Coghlan told the Herald today that he doesn't think Heffernan will "ever come down" off the high.

"Over the next few days he'll look in the mirror and he'll shed a small tear of happiness. That feeling with dissipate in the weeks to come but the winning feeling stays for the rest of your life."

He said that he had sent him a note saying "Congratulations World Champion".

Coghlan said that there is unlikely to be any financial windfall on the back of the gold medal - "but for Rob it will just be the fulfilment".

"He will be feted for years to come. He will be given accolades and awards at many dinner nights."

Proud father Bobby Heffernan said his son Rob becoming a world champion race walker was "beyond all dreams."

"I had a small feeling that he would get a medal but getting a gold, that was beyond all dreams really, I couldn't believe it.

He said the reaction locally had been great and neighbours in the champion's hometown had dropped into congratulate the family.

"It is a dream come true for him and he said he was going out there for the fun but he was going out there to win and he did win against all the odds. For a small little Irishman to go out there and take on the whole world and to come through, it's a dream come true for me and for my family and grandchildren."

he spoke about Rob's late mother saying "she's up there looking down and I actually went down to the grave this morning with the two dogs. I'm just so happy and can't get over it yet."

By Cliona Foley

Coming Soon:'s new GAA newsletter. Sign up here

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: The James Lowe dilemma, Munster's tough task and Croke Park classic revisited

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport