Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Heffernan win 'dream come true'

All Ireland will join celebrations after Rob Heffernan won a gold medal at the Moscow world championships, said President Michael D Higgins

The father of newly-crowned world champion Rob Heffernan has visited the grave of his late wife to mark their son's gold medal win.

Bobby Heffernan said it was a dream come true for the "small little Irishman" to take the top prize in the 50km race walk at the World Championships in Moscow.

"He didn't go out there for the fun," Mr Heffernan, from Cork, said. "He went out there for the win and he did win, against all the odds.

"For a small little Irishman to go out there and take on the whole world and to come through, it's a dream come true for me, for my family and for my grandchildren. And moreover, for Maureen who's up in heaven, his mother. She's up there looking down and we went down to the grave this morning with my two dogs."

Heffernan, 35, became Ireland's first male world champion in 30 years after beating the Russian favourite in his own backyard. The triumph came a year after his agonising loss at London 2012 when he finished fourth.

"It's surreal, it's just a great feeling," Heffernan added. "When I came into the stadium it just felt like an out of body experience. It's hard to take it all in at the moment. I'm delighted. Coming into the stadium I felt as if I was watching myself on the outside, looking at myself on the big screen and thinking, 'This fella looks good'."

President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny led the praise for the father-of-two, saying all of Ireland would share in his joy. "Rob came so close to success in the London Olympics and now, through hard work and dedication, he has achieved all that he deserves," Mr Higgins said.

Heffernan followed in the footsteps of Irish heroes Eamonn Coghlan and Sonia O'Sullivan, after he strode away from Russian home favourite Mikhail Ryzhov in the closing kilometres to win in a world-leading three hours, 37 minutes and 56 seconds. Coghlan won the 5,000m in Helsinki in 1983, while O'Sullivan was Ireland's last world champion, taking gold in 1995.

The Taoiseach said he met Rob following his devastating Olympics defeat and was particularly pleased for him now.

"This gold medal shows his tremendous strength of character and determination to grow stronger from each near miss," Mr Kenny said. "That today's win was the fastest time in the world this year further highlights the scale of his achievement and I offer him the warmest congratulations on behalf of the people of Ireland."

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