Rob Heffernan announces retirement from race-walking

40-year-old became first Irish athlete to compete in five Olympics at Rio 2016

The writing was already on the wall and now it's carved in stone, Rob Heffernan retiring from competitive race-walking after almost three decades in the sport.

Heffernan became the only Irish athlete to compete in five consecutive Olympics in Rio 2016, the high point of his career being the gold medal he won over the 50km walk at the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow.

The Cork athlete was also upgraded to the Olympic bronze medal from the 50km walk in London 2012, originally finishing fourth, getting his just medal reward in 2016 after the Russian Sergey Kirdyapkin was finally nailed for doping offences.

Now aged 40, there was some suggestion Heffernan may continue for Tokyo 2020, but has now agreed to take up a new position with Bank of Ireland as Retail Banking Ambassador in the Munster Region.


“After a lifetime spent dedicated to elite athletics I am delighted to be making the transition to a second career,” he said. “Retiring from a professional sporting career can be a struggle for many athletes but I have been working with my management agent Derry McVeigh over the last year to ensure that I make this transition as smooth as possible.

“I believe the skills I acquired on the track such as teamwork, commitment and leadership will stand me in good stead as I take up my next challenge with Bank of Ireland.”

He also retires with a bronze medal won over 20km at the European Championships in Barcelona in 2010; his wife Marian also competed in the London Olympics in 2012, making them the only husband and wife team to represent Ireland at the Olympics.

“Rob has represented Ireland on the world stage with distinction for over 20 years,” said Hamish Adams, CEO of Athletics Ireland. “He spent his athletic career working hard, getting results and consistently performing under pressure whilst at the same he has given so much back to young and aspiring athletes in this country. Rob’s competitive career may be over, but we are delighted that his professional relationship with Athletics Ireland will endure and we will be announcing details of his new consultancy role with us in the coming weeks.”

Liam Sheedy, Director Bank of Ireland Munster, also welcomed Heffernan on board: “We are delighted to welcome Rob Heffernan to Bank of Ireland Munster as a Community and Youth Ambassador for Cork,” said Sheedy, the former All-Ireland winning hurling manager with Tipperary. “Rob’s winning mentality and overall leadership is an excellent fit for Bank of Ireland as we strive to enable our customers, colleagues and communities to thrive. Exciting times ahead and Rob will be a great addition to our Munster Team.”

Heffernan’s Rio appearance left him the only Irish athlete to compete in five consecutive Olympics (Irish sailor David Wilkins also competed in five, though not consecutive): he’s finished third (in London), sixth (in Rio), and also boasts an eighth place in the 20km walk in Beijing, and a ninth place in the 20km walk in London.

With his 2013 World Championship gold, and 2010 European Championships bronze, he retires with the complete set of championship medals, a rare thing by any sporting standards.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics