Golden moment: Rob Heffernan arrives in Cork to hero’s welcome
World champion in 50k walk reflects on gold medal
Rob Heffernan with his children Meghan (8) and Cathal (6) at Dublin Airport following his return to Ireland after his 50k Walk World Championship win in Moscow. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times
Thousands of fans welcome Rob Heffernan on Cork’s Grand Parade. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Heffernan and wife Marion make their way to the pdium in Cork.
Heffernan with his gold medal and his family at Dublin Airport Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times
A clearly emotional Heffernan addresses the crowd in Grand Parade
World champion Rob Heffernan told thousands of fans assembled in Cork last night that “support like this breeds greatness”. He joked that his medal ceremony in Moscow for the 50km walk didn’t compare to the welcome he received in Cork. He added that he planned to continue winning medals.
“We are a great nation, support like this breeds greatness, I’m so proud to be from Cork,” he said. Heffernan said he hoped the next big win would be for the Cork hurlers. “After that we’re going to win the European championships next year and then we will drive on to the Olympics,” he said.
Introducing Marion, his wife and coach, to the crowd, MC John McHale drew cheers when he said “behind every winning man is a great woman”.
Earlier, Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 was buzzing as throngs of excited well-wishers gathered to pay homage to Ireland’s latest world champion.
The monitors displayed a simple, straightforward message that captured the mood of the moment: “Comhghairdeas. Rob Heffernan. World Champion. Céad Míle Fáilte.”
Gaggles of small children in the red of Cork and the green of Ireland raced around as adults held posters aloft. Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald represented the Government and waited with a bouquet.
Dublin Airport officials set up a cordon by one of the two gates where the arrivals emerge. The idea was for Heffernan’s party to come out that gate while others would come through the other gate, thus causing minimal disruption when the inevitable scrum descended upon him.
It was a good plan. But as the cry went up that Heffernan was approaching, it fell asunder when he came striding out through the wrong door and everybody lurched towards the other side. The arrivals gate was blocked for a time and all protocol was abandoned.
Once an intense period of flashing cameras, yelled tributes and sing-songs had ebbed, Heffernan sat down to reflect on it all. It took him a few moments to find any words at all, but finally he spoke: “It’s unbelievable – I’m trying to take it in here still. I appreciate all the support from everybody, words can’t describe it.”
He talked about the journey his career has taken since missing out on a medal in the Olympics last year when he finished fourth. “After London, we went on holidays and I was very down,” he said.
“I can remember going off for a walk on my own one night and thinking ‘I missed out on a medal’. And I was so disappointed because I had put everything into it. When I was talking about retiring, the kids said ‘Dad, we don’t want you to retire, we want you to keep going’.
“I was saying about having to train all the time and not being able to go swimming or play football with them and they were like, ‘no we want you to do it’.”
He also talked about the Irish as “emotional” people and how he channelled that to help get over the line.
“We’re unique in that. You have to use it and control it. I use it in a race to get a lift.”