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Rob Heffernan reunited with gold medal after sting operation

From agent to special agent, the man responsible for managing the day-to-day affairs of the world’s fastest race walker helped pull off a sophisticated sting that landed a stolen gold medal back with its rightful owner.

The drama began just before 7am yesterday when Derry McVeigh, agent to 50km World Champion race walker Rob Heffernan, responded to a message left on his phone asking him to call urgently.

A man identifying himself as a Dublin taxi driver answered the call and asked if the Corkman still had his World Championship medal. He claimed it had been offered for sale to him by a Romanian gypsy.

Derry phoned Rob and asked him if the medal was safe. Rob in turn phoned his wife, Marion, to check. She was sure it was in the car where Rob had left it after travelling up from Rebel Week in Cork where he had worn it while taking part in a parade. Rob and his family had spent a day at Tayto Park in Co Meath and Rob had then travelled to Dublin for a presentation, parking his car overnight in a hotel car park. Reassured by his wife, Rob had breakfast before checking his car to make sure the medal was safe — only to find it was gone, along with a chain that he wears to all his races and a watch. He rang Derry and then gardaí in Mountjoy.

Derry rang his wife, Kilmainham-based detective Anne McGowan. Derry and the gardaí hatched a plot to get the medal back while Rob continued on to the Institute of Sport for a physio session.

"We explained to gardaí time was of the essence, that they were dealing with a world class athlete and if the media got wind of the story, we’d never get the medal back," Derry said.

Derry made contact with the taxi driver and arranged for him to buy the medal for €200 from the man who had offered it for sale. This transaction, which took place on Dublin’s Parnell St, was carried out under Garda surveillance and caught on camera. Rob witnessed the transaction from the back of the Garda car that had collected him from the Institute, driven by detectives Niamh Coates and Niall Hodgins of Mountjoy Garda Station.

"It was like something out of CSI Miami. Derry went undercover and was interacting with the cameras," Rob said.

A Garda spokesman said investigations are ongoing.