Rob Heffernan is now one step away from an Olympic bronze medal after the IAAF – the governing body of world athletics – confirmed its appeal against the "selective disqualification of results" applied to the recent doping offences by Russian race walkers.
One of these walkers, Sergey Kirdyapkin, won the 50km walk at the 2012 London Olympics, where Heffernan finished fourth: only in January, Kirdyapkin was one of six Russian race walkers banned simultaneously by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) due to irregularities in their biological passports.
Yet Kirdyapkin’s ban, strangely, only included periods from July 2009 to June 2012, and from October 2012 on – effectively suggesting he was somehow clean during the London Olympics.
The IAAF are not accepting this, and have issued a statement confirming they have filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland: CAS has a strong record of taking the IAAF’s side on these matters, and there is nothing to suggest this appeal won’t also be upheld, which means Heffernan will then be automatically upgraded to Olympic bronze.
The six Russian walkers in question were confirmed by the IAAF as "Valeriy Borchin, Olga Kaniskina, Sergey Bakulin, Sergey Kirdyapkin, Vladimir Kanaykin and Yuliya Zaripova" – with the IAAF then adding:
“All six cases arose from the IAAF Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) programme launched in 2009 and had been referred to the Russian authorities for adjudication in accordance with IAAF rules.
“While the IAAF agrees with Rusada that there is, in each case, sufficient evidence of an anti-doping rule violation and that there are aggravating circumstances justifying an increased sanction of more than two years, the IAAF disagrees with the selective disqualification of results applied by Rusada as a consequence of the previous rulings.”
So, while there may be another anxious wait for Heffernan, the CAS decision is expected in the coming weeks: “It’s massive news,” he told RTÉ sport, “and to be fair, if you look at the whole situation objectively, it’s completely ridiculous. Russia invest so much money in athletics, it was like will this be a political decision, will the IAAF just go along with it?
“So for the IAAF to make this stance is great for the sport, great for clean sport, and great for anti-doping. I think it’s going to be a formality, because you can’t cherry-pick when the athletes are banned and when they can hold on to an Olympic medal. It’s like if someone goes to prison for two years, they’re like well we’ll let you out in July to take your holidays, just make sure you come back in August.”
Heffernan, now 37, and who has already posted a qualifying time for the Rio Olympics, fully expects his medal: “And I think when it goes to CAS, if I get my Olympic medal, it’s massive for the sport in Ireland. Olympic medals don’t come that easy.”
Already in line for a medal upgrade is
, who originally won silver in the 20km walk at the World Championships in Berlin, where Kaniskina won gold – although her retrospective ban, as announced in January, also included the period during those 2009 World Championships.
Even at the time the IAAF wasn’t comfortable with this selective disqualification of results, which aren’t in strict compliance with IAAF rules: “The number of Russian doping cases in athletics generally, and in race walking specifically, is a major concern for the IAAF,” they added, “and we are fully investigating recent doping allegations in Russian athletics, with WADA’s [(World Anti-Doping Agency)] support.”
So Heffernan is now on the verge of winning what will be the 29th Irish medal in Olympic history. And with a World Championship gold from 2013, and a retrospective bronze medal from the 2010 Europeans in Barcelona (that Russian gold medallist was also banned), it would neatly complete his set.