Without the support of his family and friends, Olympic walker Rob Heffernan admitted he would not have made it over the line.
He said: “You have to stay very positive when you are going through torture over the last 10km. You just have to keep reinforcing ‘my kids are watching me back home, my family are watching me. All of Cork, all of Ireland’.
“I have got so many messages off people in the lead-up to this and I didn’t want to let them down, so I hope that I gave people back home a bit of a buzz. I am sorry that I didn’t win a medal but I hope I gave you something to cheer about.”
Asked why he puts himself through it all, it was once again, all about his family. “I love it, it’s my life, it’s Marian’s life, it’s my kids’ life — it’s a whole family affair and I couldn’t do it without the support of my family and kids. Meghan wrote me out a message last night and it nearly made me cry.”
Emotions ran high in Cork’s Murphy’s Rock bar yesterday as of friends and family watched their hero cross the finish line in the 50km racewalk final.
Heffernan finished in sixth place initially, in a time of 3:43:55, but was bumped up to fifth when Japan’s Hirooki Arai was disqualified by judges. He was later put back to sixth place when Arai’s appeal was successful.
Discussing his future with RTÉ before news of his upgrade broke, Heffernan said it was not time to hang up his runners just yet. Despite speculation that yesterday would be Heffernan’s final Olympic outing, he seemed optimistic about the future, and a potential sixth punt at the medal podium in 2020.
“I wanted to see was I still competitive and, you know, who is there to take my place? I am still there, I will go back and evaluate this from a sporting point of view and I will see what went wrong.
“I still think I am good enough to win or win a medal. So no, this isn’t the end of it.”
It was clear from the rapturous reaction of fans gathered at home in Cork that the Togher native had done them proud. For family watching his race on the big screen, however, the three-and-a-half-hour wait for a result had been gruelling.
“It’s heartbreak,” said his father Bobby, though he was delighted with his son’s performance. “I’m so proud of him. I adore that young fella I really do. It brings tears to my eyes.”
Bobby said his son had given little indication of where he might place, but that he personally expected that Rob would come in the top 10.
“He would never tell you how confident he would be but there was a good result in him. I think he was prepared for a good result but what he got he is delighted with.”
Rob’s eldest children, Meghan and Cathal, were also delighted, and watching their dad cross the finish line was an emotional experience for his 11-year-old son. “I just couldn’t take it. No words can describe it. It was such a good feeling,” said Cathal “I couldn’t be any prouder.”
For Meghan, 13, a rising athletics star in her own right, a top-10 finish was more than she could ask for. “I’m really proud of him. He’s trained all this time for the Olympics and he’s done it and he’s happy with his result. He’s happy and so are we.”
As for Rob, he still has Olympic 2012 bronze medal ceremony to look forward to. “I hope everyone will come out and we will celebrate the London medal at the end of October or start of November (in Cork) — something to look forward to in the winter,” he declared.
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