Olympic medalist and 2013 world champion walker, Rob Heffernan, has described the meticulous dope-testing regime facing competitors — after almost 30 tests already this year.
Ahead of his big event in just under a fortnight, the Cork man has been relaxing at home for a few days before flying out to Brazil next week.
While he is happy to be tested regularly to prove his doping-free status to any sceptics, he complained about the disruptive nature of the testing system.
Rob was upgraded retrospectively to Olympic bronze medalist earlier this year after the gold medal was stripped from the Russian athlete who won the men’s 50km walk at the 2012 London games in which he had finished fourth.
Of dozens of doping tests Rob has undergone this year alone, six were carried out during a five-week training camp in Spain from which he recently returned.
“I’ve been tested 29 times this year. It’s like the guards now, it’s a statistic thing,” he said in an interview with Neil Prendeville on Cork’s RedFM.
“I was out in Spain in a training camp for five weeks and they called three times at six in the morning, they called another two times at 11 at night when I was in bed at half-ten,” he said.
The champion walker said the testing itself does not annoy him, but some balance of support needs to be provided.
“When they call at six in the morning and you’ve got 40k to do, it upsets everything,” he explained.
“I’ve put in requests, I’ve said ‘Look, you can have the doping control officer move in with me in my house but send out a coach, send out a physio, send out a doctor in case I get sick’,” he said.
While the revelations about Irish boxer Michael O’Reilly have been dominating discussions of Team Ireland’s preparations in Rio, Rob said he isn’t going to let it impinge on the lead-in to his own event.
“I’m concentrating on my own training and it doesn’t concern me,” he said.
Rob competes in the 50km walk on August 19 in a field he says is quite open, with strong performances likely from a number of his top competitors.
The unannounced doping test visits are facilitated by competitors like Rob being required to make their whereabouts known 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The system is designed, among other things, to ensure athletes are unable to prepare concealed devices to offer fake urine samples.
“You have to go in and pull your shirt up around your chest and you have to pull your pants down around your ankles.
“And you have the doping control officer watching you pee,” he said.
Before that, he said, between four and six small vials of blood are taken.
Despite the disruptions to his training camp, Rob said the work in the mountains went well and he is now looking forward to doing his best at the Olympics.
“Training has gone very well up there. I want to go in fresh, with my work done,” he said.
He said the state- sponsored doping regime in Russian sport is completely different to the isolated cases over the years of Irish competitors found to have taken banned substances.
“You’re always going to have people who are human, who’re going to go down that road. Why have they gone down that road? That’s the bigger issue,” he said.
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