Imagine walking 50km? Fast? Like in the Olympics fast? Well that is what Rob Heffernan, an athlete from my adopted home in Cork, Ireland did in the London Olympics in 2012. He raced magnificently, crossing the line in fourth. Ireland is a very small nation, if there’s any hint of a chance at a medal we go mad, so we still celebrated his wonderful achievement, but we felt his disappointment.
Well today March 24th, the final result was overturned. The winner, a Russian athlete, Sergey Kirdyapkin was stripped of his gold medal for doping offences and at last Rob Heffernan is an Olympic medal winner. Yahoo.
I nearly burst with delight when I heard. As a child in sport you dream of making the Olympics, to win a medal is something most don’t ever imagine, even in their dreams. The hours of training involved is cruel and the lifestyle and commitment is such, only rare individuals can pursue. On top of that Rob is a father of four, in training for his fifth Olympics in Rio.
Yet as I delighted in his success today and the righting of a wrong, I began to think of all he missed out on. The Olympics were in London, a stones throw from Ireland. He never got to walk to the podium, cheered by a huge crowd, (of very bias Irish), and be publicly honoured. He has missed out on the many endorsements which would have come his way, being the recipient of an Olympic medal, but most importantly he missed out on the huge high he should have got when he crossed the line in third place.
However, as I’ve said before, competitive athletes are a different breed. Not for him the road of bitterness or regret. Rob just kept on moving, training for the next Olympics, Rio 2016. He recently qualified for both the 20km and 50km races. The delight of getting the medal is shelved as he concentrates on his next goal, but I just wanted to salute him here, for he is a real champion. With or without the medal.
Comhgairdeas Rob and the team behind you. I hope getting your hands on your Olympic medal is the perfect final preparation for Rio.
And there is more…
After I’d written the above post, I heard another of our athletes was to have a medal upgraded. This time it was Irish runner Olive Loughnane, who also comes from Cork. (There must be something in the water down here!) Way back in 2009 she came second in the World Championships in Berlin, in the 20km walk. Today she became a World Champion, as Russian athlete Olga Kaniskina was stripped of her title, and Olive was rightfully awarded the Gold.
It’s wonderful news of course, but to have waited seven years!
As to those who put in the hours, the sacrifice and hurt but blew it all by cheating, I’m not sure how I feel about you. But robbing others of their just rewards is wrong and definitely not sporting. The most striking thing about today was the comments from both Olive and Rob. Neither showed bitterness nor anger, They really are true ‘sports’ in every sense of the word.
Congratulations Olive and Rob. I hope you enjoy your place in Ireland’s sporting history.
(photo from Rob and Marians facebook page)