Rob Heffernan walks into history as Irish Olympic squad confirmed

Corkman becomes first Irish athlete to be selected for five consecutive Games

Rob Heffernan is the first Irish athlete to  be  selected for five consecutive summer Olympic Games after being named among a 17-strong team for Rio. Photograph:  Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Rob Heffernan is the first Irish athlete to be selected for five consecutive summer Olympic Games after being named among a 17-strong team for Rio. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

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It’s not the largest ever Irish athletics team being sent to the Olympics but it’s already somewhat historic, Rob Heffernan becoming the first athlete to be selected for five consecutive summer Games – thus equalling the all-time record of Irish sailor David Wilkins.

Heffernan will also travel to Rio next month armed with the 50km walk bronze medal retrospectively awarded from London 2012, with every intention of equalling or doing better this time round. At 38 he’s also one of the oldest of the 17 Irish athletes set to compete, although in the 50km walk, that age is still considered amply competitive.

The Corkman competed in the 20km walk in Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008, and both the 20km and 50km walk in London 2012 (finishing ninth in the 20km, originally fourth in the 50km, only for the Russian winner Sergey Kirdyapkin to be stripped of his gold earlier this year).

With that Heffernan now equals Ireland’s record Olympic appearance of Wilkins, the Dublin sailor competing in five summer Games between 1972 and 1992, although not in succession, as he missed out on Los Angeles in 1984. Wilkins won silver in the Flying Dutchman class with partner James Wilkinson at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Three more of the 17 Irish athletes qualified for Rio have also competed in previous Olympics: it’s the third consecutive Games for Fionnuala McCormack, who although qualified in both the 10,000m and marathon, is likely to run the marathon only. Brendan Boyce (50km walk) and Tori Pena (pole vault) also competed in London.

For the other 13 athletes, Rio will mark their Olympic debuts - including Ciara Mageean, who just last Sunday won the European Championship bronze medal over 1,500m. Ciara Everard has also been nominated for the 800m despite not racing this season due to a stress reaction in her ankle, although according to her coach, James Nolan, she is working close with the medical team at the Irish Institute of Sport with every hope and intention of being on the start line in Rio.

Interestingly, Heffernan will also play a coaching role in Rio, and he’s overseeing the training of fellow walkers Boyce and Alex Wright.

Ireland will also be represented by the full quota of three athletes in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase (Kerry O’Flaherty, Sara Treacy, and Michelle Finn) and both the men’s marathon (Kevin Seaward, Mick Clohissey, and Paul Pollock) and the women’s marathon (McCormack, Lizzie Lee, and Breege Connolly). Connolly, also 38 but a few weeks older than Heffernan, is the oldest member of the team.

Coming closest to qualifying was the men’s 4x400m relay quartet, the only minor consolation being missing out wasn’t quite the worst nightmare scenario they first feared; instead of finishing 17th, just one place outside an invitation to Rio, they ended up 18th (India moving into the top 16 over the weekend), though still a case of so near and yet so far for the quartet of Brian Gregan, Craig Lynch, David Gillick and Thomas Barr.

Irish Athletics team for Rio Olympics
Mark English: 800m
Ciara Everard: 800m
Ciara Mageean: 1,500m
Thomas Barr: 400m hurdles
Kerry O’Flaherty: 3,000m steeplechase
Sara Treacy: 3,000m steeplechase
Michelle Finn: 3,000m steeplechase
Fionnuala McCormack: 10,000m/marathon
Alex Wright: 20k walk/50k walk
Rob Heffernan: 50k walk
Brendan Boyce: 50k walk
Tori Pena: Pole vault
Kevin Seaward: marathon
Mick Clohissey: marathon
Paul Pollock: marathon
Lizzie Lee: marathon
Breege Connolly: marathon

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