'Proud' Heffernan: We are as good as anybody

Rob Heffernan has joined the list of Irish sporting greats by claiming Ireland’s third ever gold medal at a World Athletics Championships, becoming only the fifth person in all to medal, by winning the men’s 50k walk in Moscow this morning.

The Cork athlete remained up near the front throughout the race, where even in the cagey opening kilometres, never dropped any lower than tenth, as young Russian pair Ivan Noskov and Mikhail Ryzhov pulled clear.

Australian Jared Tallent and French veteran Yohan Diniz gave chase and made it a four-man leading group, which became five when Heffernan came on the scene at the sharp end, 24 kilometres into the fifty.

Producing his own race as usual, Heffernan kept his composure and his rhythm going, pulling away with Noskov and Ryzhov with 16k remaining.

When Noskov was dropped, it became a two-man shootout which Heffernan was determined he would win, and with precisely 10 kilometres left in the contest, the Togher man made his decisive move.

Entering the Luzhniki Stadium first, Heffernan lapped up the acclaim of the crowd for one full lap of the stadium, before crossing the line in a new world-leading time of 3 hours, 37 minutes, 56 seconds – 68 seconds clear of 21-year-old Ryzhov.

His victory was secured exactly thirty years to the day since Eamonn Coghlan tasted this same emotion at the inaugural championships in Helsinki – August 14th 1983.

The new world champion was greeted on the track by his wife Marian – who has put her track career on hold this year to coach Rob full-time - when the enormity of the victory was only beginning to sink in.

Tallent came in third.

It’s Heffernan’s first major Championship medal after fourth-place finishes at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona and last year’s Olympic Games in London, and brings his wait for a precious major Championship medal to an end.

“I’m thrilled, it’s hard to take in,” he said.

“World champion – even to say it, it doesn’t feel real right now. I’m so proud, I’m delighted.”

Referring to the decisive moment of the race late on, Heffernan detailed: “He tried to make a move, and I was going to myself ‘This is only a young fella.’

“I’m after walking 3:37 in London and I’ve coped with all of this pressure.

“So I said, leave him go at 39k, and then at 40k, I’ll bury him.

“You need to have your reserve at 40k. I never looked at my splits, never looked at anything, I just said I would keep my reserves for 40k.

“Then I just kept on focusing on increasing the gap. I was leaving little markers on the road and I could see it was increasing little by little.”

Remarking on the drive and determination he was generating within himself to win, Heffernan said: “It was unreal. Robert Korzeniwoski (three-times world champion) was on the course. He coached me for years, and I put my own team together after Robert.

“He said that I’d never walk a 50k. He was my biggest inspiration ever, my biggest motivation ever, to prove him wrong.

“I knew he would want me to win it in a good way.

“Having an Irishman coming into the stadium, beating the Russians in Russia – it’s surreal. I wanted the Rocky story!

“We can do it, we are as good as anybody if we put the structures in place.

“For somebody who came from Cork, who came from Togher, who came from basically a very humble background – to come to the top of the world is a dream come true for me.

And on his wife and coach, Heffernan – due to become a father for the third time around Christmas – was full of praise.

He said: “Marian has been my biggest inspiration. She has been great for me, and this year she has been able to give that bit of extra support that matters.

“To see her here, I was just overcome with emotion. When I think that I came home from Daegu and I couldn’t stop crying because my mam had died.

“And I couldn’t stop crying there because I was so happy. It’s unbelievable. I just need to enjoy these moments.”

Of previous World Championships successes, Eamonn Coghlan won gold at the first World Championships in 1983 over 5000m, with Sonia O’Sullivan victorious over the same distance in Gothenburg in 1995.

Derval O’Rourke won world indoor gold, also in Moscow, in 2006, adding to the three won by Marcus O’Sullivan and two by Frank O’Mara from 1987 to 1993.

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