Walking Tall

Irish Olympic hero Rob Heffernan announces retirement after 8th-place finish

The Cork native bowed out after an excellent display at the world championships in London.

Updated at 13.17

IRELAND’S ROB HEFFERNAN has finished eighth in the 50km walk at the world championships in London today, before subsequently confirming his retirement from the sport.

The Cork native began slowly and struggled to breach the top 10 in the first two hours, finding himself 21st at 30km.

However, with 10km to go, Heffernan picked up the pace and ultimately finished strongly to secure a top-10 placing, while 39-year-old world record holder Yohann Diniz of France claimed gold with a time of 3 hours, 33 minutes, 12 seconds — the second-fastest finish in the history of the event.

Hirooki Arai came second with a time of 3:41:17, just two seconds ahead of bronze medalist and Japanese team-mate Kai Kobayashi.

There was disappointment for another Irish athlete, however, as it was yesterday confirmed that Brendan Boyce had been forced to withdraw from today’s event due to a hamstring tear, leaving Heffernan as his country’s sole representative in the 50km walk.

2017 IAAF World Championships - Day Ten - London Stadium Ireland's Robert Heffernan acknowledges the crowd after finishing eighth in the Men's 50km Race Walk. John Walton John Walton

Having announced his retirement after the race, 39-year-old Heffernan paid tribute to all those who have supported him over the course of a distinguished career, while also expressing dissatisfaction with the lack of TV coverage afforded to Irish athletes such as himself.

The Irish crowd and the familiar faces of everyone who supported me — the motivation today was to give them something positive to say thanks,” he told reporters.

“I could put the head down and feel sorry for myself for not winning a medal, but it was lovely to get to thank people and for them to see me race, because obviously we didn’t get to show the races at home.

I laugh when you see the sports minister on about holding an Olympic Games — we can’t even show (the world championships) on television at home.

He added: “It’s been emotional. From the bottom of my heart, I’d really like to thank everybody that’s supported me and that’s what’s kept me going this year.”

Post-retirement, Heffernan says he intends to spend more time coaching other Irish athletes to try to help them fulfill their potential.

I know the life that you have to live as a high-performance athlete. That’s where my passion is now — giving back. Even somebody like Brendan Boyce, who I took on as a project and all of the walkers I took on winning European Cup medals this year, which probably went under the radar. It’s the first time Ireland ever won medals and why? There’s no big secret – it’s work.

“The sport is so poisonous now with talk of doping all the time. We’re forgetting the main ingredients that make our athletes good. What made Marcus (O’Sullivan) good? What made Sonia (O’Sullivan) good?

With the scientific support now, we should be bringing the five medalists we have at junior level through to senior level to be world-class athletes.

“I do get frustrated when I see the drop off, not just in walking, but in all events. I can do this at 39 but to be honest, my body doesn’t have that desire, that rawness it had when I was younger. It knows what’s ahead and it holds back.

The last 10k (today) is okay, but to do it for the whole race, you need to be a bit of an animal with no brain.”

As he bows out of the sport, Heffernan — who counts among his achievements bronze medals at the 2012 London Olympics and 2010 European Championships along with a gold at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, as well as representing Ireland in five Olympic Games over the course of an 18-year career — added that he had no regrets.

Taking the emotion out of it, you still need to get on with the job and I fed off emotion at the end, so you need to get the balance right.

“The only decision I have to make now is where I’m going for a pint.”

Additional reporting by Will Downing

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