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Dublin: 20 °C Saturday 21 September, 2019
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Belated Olympic bronze still a dream come true for Heffernan

The proud Corkonian was awarded his medal from London in Cork tonight.

Rob Heffernan Heffernan with his medal.

IT MIGHT HAVE arrived more than four years late but Rob Heffernan is just delighted to finally have an Olympic medal around his neck.

The Cork walker received his belated bronze from London 2012 tonight at the Cork City Hall and while he is still furious about missing his moment on the podium, and an estimated €400,000, he is doing his best to embrace the occasion.

“It’s a dream come true, after dedicating myself to sport at whatever level and having been extremely lucky with World and European medals, to have an Olympic medal dangling around my neck justifies an entire life’s work,” Heffernan beamed.

The Togher man’s life has seen its fair share of peaks and troughs. London 2012 was yet another example of that.

Despite walking a 50km national record at the Olympics four years ago, Heffernan was left hugely disappointed in finishing fourth, just like he had done in the European Championships at the same distance two years earlier.

“It made me bitter because I was told I would never get back to that level of performance again,” Heffernan explained in Cork earlier today.

“I was distraught because I had put everything into winning the medal, and in my head I was thinking I would be like the Steve Bruce of athletics, that you were a lovely fella but had no medals and ultimately you’d be forgotten about, and maybe, a normal fella from Cork, I didn’t deserve to be the big star.

“You’re always hoping though that when there’s a Russian in front of you, and you’re in those kind of positions, that if I do my work and they do their work there’s a chance, and it’s good that it’s finally sorted.”

Rob Heffernan At City Hall this evening.

It’s a suspicion borne from experience, following a creditable 8th in Beijing in 2008, the proud Corkonian, surrounded by family, couldn’t help but notice that gold medallist Valeriy Borchin was completely alone. Borchin would later be banned for doping but his gold medal remains.

Two years later Heffernan would again produce a bronze medal-winning performance in the 20km walk at the European Championships in Barcelona, again awarded retrospectively, this time Stanislav Emelyanov was the offender.

And while the retrospective honours may be of some consolation to Heffernan, manager Derry McVeigh estimated the significant financial cost of being cheated out of a medal.

“On a monetary point of view I would say he was down €400,000 to €500,000 on a typical Olympic cycle for having not won a medal at the time in London,” McVeigh said.

“He would have been a really good brand ambassador for race walking, but we said we had to keep the show on the road and produce a performance before 2014, when his funding ended, to get him what he wanted.”

Rob Heffernan The medal itself.

Heffernan has learned first-hand the rough and smooth that comes with professional sport, and he can allow himself to be philosophical ahead of the first Olympic medal ceremony on Irish soil.

“I know, when I was younger travelling the world, it can seem like the grass is always greener. But coming back to Ireland and back to Cork specifically, where we’re more passionate about sport than anyone else in the world, with the medal dangling around my neck, is a huge honour. It’s huge for Cork, it’s huge for Ireland, and it’s huge personally for me.

“What if I had won it on the day? I’d have carried on the party for another two months. I wouldn’t have gone back training because I would have had an Olympic medal in my pocket, I wouldn’t have won the World Championships in Moscow and I wouldn’t have had the motivation.”

There is still time for Heffernan to receive his limelight under the London sky, as he prepares to defend his gold medal at the World Championships next year.

“My ambition is to win a medal in front of Buckingham Palace, say hello to the Queen, and have the flag hanging, that would be a wonderful thing!”

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Kevin Galvin

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