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There's an amateur culture in Irish athletics - Heffernan

The race walker also suggested the government should provide sport in this country with significant funding.

Rob Heffernan finished fourth in the Men's 50km Race Walk.
Rob Heffernan finished fourth in the Men's 50km Race Walk.

IRISH RACE WALKER Rob Heffernan believes the “amateur culture” in Ireland is one reason why certain athletes underperformed at the London Olympics.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Off the Ball, Heffernan explained the “big difference” between athletics abroad and in Ireland.

“Athletics abroad is a job,” he said. “You don’t get a pat in the back for training – there’s an amateur culture here.

“And they’ve a full-time support team – coaching, doctors, trainers.”

He added that Irish athletes had “a massive desire and will to win,” but that a better environment needed to be put in place.

He cited Ciaran O’Lionaird, whose performance at this year’s Games was hampered by injury, as an example of Ireland’s potential, suggesting he could “win the next Olympics”.

He also urged the government to provide significant funding for sport in Ireland and spoke of the overwhelmingly positive reaction he had received from people since finishing fourth at the Olympics, saying:

“The great thing about sport is how positive people are [because of it]. You have to invest money in sport, because it lifts people’s mood.”

In relation to his recent exploits, he revealed that he was “grimacing” during the race rather than smiling as many people perceived.

He explained that he is still relatively new to 50k walking, admitting that it was “the first 50k that I’ve really prepared for,” and adding: “I still learned so much from racing at the weekend.”

He continued: “I used similar tactics in Barcelona two years ago. I was just kind of holding back fuel as much as I could in the first 35k.

“After 40k, you’re looking for every bit of motivation to get you home.”

And while Heffernan was criticised by some, most notably RTE’s Jerry Kiernan, for engaging with the crowd during events rather than focusing solely on the race, he dismissed this claim, saying:

“Jerry’s a good friend of mine, but he’s wrong there,” adding that he tended to race “better in front of crowds,” owing to the energy they give him.

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Paul Fennessy

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