Rob Heffernan has the walk of his life
Corkman’s win comes 30 years after Eamonn Coghlan’s gold in Helsinki
That good old time again. The where did it all begin. The who is behind it. The when exactly did Rob Heffernan believe he could be world champion. The how on earth did he pull it all off so utterly brilliantly, smiling, both hands waving free, in the most grimacing of athletics events.
Not so easily done, actually. No race ever begins on the starting line, no matter how long or short, and no one knows this better than Heffernan himself. Indeed his journey to the gold medal in the 50km walk defeats both summary and economy – which is a good thing, because no moderate or concise praise would be worthy of what went into his moment of triumph in Moscow.
How entirely fitting too Heffernan must also wait that bit longer to get his hands on that gold medal, and must set out on another little walk, back into the Luzhniki Stadium this evening, for the victory ceremony: because it’s been such a long time coming, and if the 35 year-old from Cork hasn’t run out of smiles and tears by then it might just be the most emotionally charged medal presentation of these entire World Championships.
One person who won’t be there, nor can’t be there, will, he believes, be looking down. Because the one person Heffernan will be thinking about more than anyone else is his mother Maureen, who died, tragically, in a domestic accident, just days before he was set to compete at the last World Championships, two years ago, in Daegu.
“My mam would have been so proud of me,” he said, openly addressing the matter on several occasions in the aftermath of his victory. “People go on about the disappointment of sport. But when she passed away it was the saddest, saddest time of my life, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. When I was coming through today, feeling good, I realised you have to appreciate the good times, enjoy them while you can. You use that stuff for strength, of course. But this is a big turnaround from a couple of years ago.”
That it all happened exactly 30 years to the day – August 14th – since Eamonn Coghlan won Ireland’s first gold medal, at the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki, over 5,000 metres, has elements of both destiny and familiarity: like Coghlan, who went to Helsinki on the back of a fourth place finish at the Olympics – indeed twice – Heffernan came to Moscow seeking some redemption, not least for his fourth place finish at the 50km walk London Olympics almost exactly one year ago.
Challenging for medals
“People go on about medals,” he said, “but for the last 11 years I’ve been challenging for medals. For some reason or another I hadn’t yet won one. I still thought I had a great performance in London, even though it wasn’t a medal. I did everything I could. I still performed. This year I just had a better support team, starting with my wife, Marian. I’ve trained really well this year, but kept it simple. Marian took a step back from her own athletics career, to support me, and has been with me all year. All I had to worry about was racing. Everything else is taken care of.”
He noted, however, that he’ll be taking care of Marian for the next while, given she’s now four months pregnant: “Yeah I’ll have to put the hard yards back in when I get home. The tables will turn.”