Belfast Telegraph

Heffernan win 'dream come true'

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."

Heffernan's wife Marian, a 400m runner, ran to embrace him as he crossed the finish line and had an Irish flag draped over his shoulders.

"I wanted to go to Moscow and take on the Russians in Moscow and that's what I did," the athlete said after his victory.

"I'm very proud that an Irishman can come to Russia and beat them in walking."

Father to Megan and Cathal, Heffernan was left distraught following the sudden death of his mother Maureen in 2011.

His father said her memory had helped push the sportsman over the finish line today.

Mr Heffernan got up at 4am this morning to watch the race at home on TV.

He said he got so excited at times he had to turn away from the screen.

"I just can't get over it," he told RTE Radio.

"I didn't even watch the end of the race.

"I had to go outside the front door and walk up and down the road I was so excited.

"I just couldn't believe he could do it.

"Deep down in my heart I knew there was a medal in him.

"But I certainly didn't think that there was a gold."

Meanwhile, Sports Minister Leo Varadkar praised Heffernan's outstanding performance.

"It's a huge achievement for Rob," he said.

"After so many years competing at the very top level of international race walking, it is a just and most deserved reward for all his hard work and determination."

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