Rob Heffernan awarded Olympics bronze medal

Olive Loughnane will also be officially upgraded to World Championship gold from the 20k walk in 2009

Not many athletes find themselves driving to training half an hour after winning an Olympic bronze medal, his two baby daughters in the backseat.

But then these are strange and unprecedented times in world sport. For Rob Heffernan it’s obviously not the same as standing on the medal podium in London, almost four years ago – that moment now lost forever: it does however bring the same deep sense of satisfaction that comes with winning what will always be the most cherished of prizes in any sport.

“No, of course it’s not the same as winning the Olympic medal on the day,” Heffernan told The Irish Times, while driving to training at the Mardyke track in Cork along with his wife Marian, and their daughters Regan (two) and Tara (10 months).

“But I know from my own experience how these things work, and after all the hysteria and excitement that comes with winning any medal, it’s only later, when you’re on your own and away from it all, that the satisfaction of it all really sinks it. And I’ll still get that feeling after all this.


“I remember long after winning the gold medal at the World Championships in Moscow in 2013, it was later on, sitting at home at night on my own, that the real satisfaction kicks in, that you’ve done your absolute best and got the reward. The medal is really only the symbol of it all, some acknowledgement, but the real satisfaction is within. And I know I’ll feel the same about London now.”

Heffernan’s long wait for Olympic justice ended this morning when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne effectively awarded him the bronze medal from the 50km walk at London 2012 – upholding the appeals against the cases of the six Russian athletes who were issued with “selective disqualification of results” by the Russian Anti-doping Agency (RUSADA).

One of those Russian athletes, Sergey Kirdyapkin, originally won the 50km walk in London, only to later fail a doping test: Heffernan finished fourth, and he’ll now be automatically upgraded to bronze as Kirdyapkin’s ban now covers that period of the Olympics, as of course it always should have.

Heffernan had been trying hard not to get distracted by the pending news from CAS, especially as his focus is now firmly fixed on the Rio Olympics later this summer, where he’ll become the first Irish athlete from any sport to compete in five summer Games.

Indeed, all his thoughts were on this morning’s training session when the news actually landed: “I was sitting in the kitchen, finishing off breakfast, just getting ready for training. Marian and the kids normally leave me alone at that stage, because I need to start concentrating on the training, what I’m about to do. So she was upstairs getting them ready.

“Then the email landed in from the CAS, the same email that went around to everyone else. I actually wrote to CAS myself a few weeks ago, asking them to keep me updated, to add me to their mailing list. So this email comes into my phone and straightaway I realised it’s from CAS.

“So I shouted up to Marian, and she comes legging it down the stairs. I don’t know how she didn’t drop one of the kids. We all gathered around in the kitchen, and I was trying to read out the email, on my phone, and the screen kept rotating, and I could hardly see it.

“I saw the name Kirdyapkin, then I saw August 20th, not the year, and think ‘hang on was that after the Olympics?’ Then I realised that was when it started, until October 2012. But yeah I kept saying that I couldn’t think about it too much, and I honestly didn’t realise how I would feel. Or if I’d even feel anything. But I do. It’s a great feeling, I’m absolutely delighted, excited, all those things. And I think that’s great too because a part of me was wondering would I still feel it.

“Even over the last few weeks a few people have been congratulating me, but I wasn’t feeling anything. It’s only now, when it actually happens, that it’s starting to sink in, and it is an amazing feeling.”

Kirdyapkin failed a doping test in January 2015, but his ban, bizarrely, only included periods from July 2009 to June 2012, and from October 2012 onwards: now after the CAS decision, following an appeal by the IAAF, “all competitive results obtained by Sergey Kirdyapkin from 20th August 2009 to 15th October 2012 are disqualified”.

Despite the fact Russian athletics has now been exposed for its systematic doping, Heffernan always wondered would this day ever come: “I knew, going back to London, all about what was going on with Kirdyapkin, that he was part of it all. But I knew as well you’d have to strip away all the corruption, cut down on all the anti-doping.

“Which is way I see it much more in a positive light. I think the message is getting out there now, that dopers will be caught. In other times he would have got away with it. It would have been very hard to imagine a few years ago that a superpower such as Russia would find itself in this situation. So I think yeah we are seeing a lot more justice, and that’s a positive thing, not a negative. To me it’s a brilliant time for athletics, when more athletes get justice like this.”

Also getting confirmation of justice from CAS, although known already, is Olive Loughnane, who will be officially upgraded to World Championship gold from the 20k walk in Berlin, after the Russia’s gold medal winner there, Olga Kaniskina, had all her competitive results from August 15th, 2009 to October 15th, 2012 disqualified.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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