Race walking legend, Rob Heffernan, from Togher in Cork, became the first athlete to be presented with an Olympic medal on Irish soil during an historic ceremony in Cork’s City Hall.
The 2013 world champion was upgraded from fourth to Olympic bronze for the gruelling 2012 Olympics 50km walk after the winning Russian athlete, Sergey Kirdyapkin, was stripped of his gold earlier this year after failing a doping test.
Fighting to hold back the tears, Heffernan said he was “humbled” by the reception.
“I better make a joke before I start crying. You’d swear I planned to finish fourth because this is a way better than what it would have been in London. It’s a dream come true and justifies my whole life’s work.”
“Part of me thinks it (the delay) was good for me, because it made me a little bit bitter and made me hungry for the next year.
“It drove me on — it’s all part of the story. I have no regrets about not getting the medal in London.
“If I got the medal on the day, and continued partying, and didn’t go back training because I had an Olympic medal in my pocket, I wouldn’t have won the world championships in Moscow.
“I don’t look at it as a negative scenario at all.
“I think it’s positive, and I hope it will have a massive positive impact on kids.
“We love sport here in Ireland, and to have an Olympic medal presented in Cork is brilliant for Cork, it’s brilliant for Ireland.”
Despite the delay costing him up to €500,000 in commercial opportunities, Derry McVeigh, said they haven’t dwelt on that. “We just had to put that to one side and regroup on the basis of his performance the previous year.
“We needed to keep the show on the road and put in a performance that brings him to funding for 2016.
“We tweaked a few things behind the scenes, and he was world champion in 2013.
“If he got the (Olympic) medal, he could have been on the merry-go-round and may not have been world champion the following year.”
Acting president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, William O’Brien, presented Heffernan with his medal before an audience of around 800 people in City Hall with Rob’s children Cathal and Megan acting as the medal carriers.
Lord Mayor of Cork, Des Cahill, described Heffernan as “a proud Corkonian and a model and inspiration to the youth of today”, and said he was honoured to host the historic medal ceremony.
“It is only right and fitting that we recognise the tenacious efforts by Rob in representing his country on an international stage,” he said.
“We all take pride in his achieving this most coveted Olympic bronze medal.”
Other tributes came from 400m hurdles star Thomas Barr, Olympic rowing silver medallist Gary O’Donovan and former sprint hurdles star Derval O’Rourke.