Rio 2016: Rob Heffernan the toast of Cork after 50km walk

Family and friends in Rebel County elated with fifth-place finish in Olympics number five

Rob Heffernan in action during the 50km walk. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Rob Heffernan in action during the 50km walk. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

He may not have won a medal but walker Rob Heffernan’s family and friends spoke with pride of his achievement in competing in five Olympics and finishing a creditable fifth in the 50km walk in Rio on Friday.

His father Bobby, along with the athlete’s children Megan (13) and Cathal (11) and sisters, Rhonda, Anthea and Lindsey, gathered with friends at Murphy’s Rock Bar in Ballyvolane on Cork’s northside to watch the race.

Although from Ballyphehane on Cork’s southside, the Heffernans had accepted an offer from Bernard and Karen Murphy to gather at their bar in Ballyvolane. The Murphys turned on the style, decking out the bar in Irish flags and green, white and orange balloons.

A loud cheer went up every time Rob came into shot on the television, particularly coming up to the 2½ hour mark when he moved to the head of a bunch chasing leader Yohann Diniz of France and Canadian Ewan Dunfee to put himself in the bronze medal position.

But if the Irish walker faded over the last 10kms, it didn’t seem to matter to his fans at home.

“I love that guy to death,” said his 70-year old father who has just got the all clear after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.” I just can’t believe he did so well. I wanted him to win and going to Rio in the heat was always going to be a massive task, but I am so proud of him.”

Family embrace

His children said they were looking forward to giving him a big hug and telling him how proud they were when he returns home to Cork next week with his wife and coach, Marian.

“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” said Cathal. “He’s gone to five Olympics and done well in all of them really and watching him crossing the line there at the end was very emotional.”

Rob’s sister, Lindsey, said she had to nip in and out every so often during the race as the tension was too much. Rhonda confessed she would loved to have been able to close her eyes for an hour and wake up to discover there was only a few kilometres to go and he was still in contention.

But it was Anthea who perhaps summed up the family and people of Cork’s feelings for Rob.”He’s a legend and he always will be. He’s a Cork man who competed in five Olympics and seeing him cross the line with that smile on his face was fabulous and something we will always cherish.”