"I felt like Vinnie Jones in Mean Machine" - Rob Heffernan on battling against drug cheats

World champion race walker chats to Off The Ball

Rob Heffernan, Olympics,

Ireland's Rob Heffernan after finishing fifth ©INPHO/Ian MacNicol

The 2009 World Championship-winning race walker Rob Heffernan says he tries to channel his anger about competing against dopers to his advantage.

The Corkman, who will become the first Irish athlete to compete at five Olympics in Rio this summer, joined Off The Ball's Joe Molloy for a wide-ranging interview today with just months to go to the 2016 Games.

Heffernan famously finished fourth at London 2012, yet three of the other walkers in the top 6 that race are potentially facing bans for doping.

He remembers one exchange with Vladimir Kanaykin - who served a doping ban before those Games - during the 20K in London when the athlete got on his nerves by criticising Heffernan for using the wind to his advantage in a portion of the race.

"We had words with each other during the race. I sat behind and it was kind of windy and I can remember thinking 'who does your man think he's talking to?' I can remember just smirking and I felt like Vinnie Jones in Mean Machine. I wanted to hop him off the barrier on the course and then I just said [to myself] 'relax' and I just smiled at him, nodded and said 'I'll stay here as long as I want and I'll go when I go'. I used it that way and I was like 'you're dirty, you're panicking when I'm next to you and I feel stronger,'" he recalled. 

Heffernan, who also admitted that accusations and insinuations resulting from his own success are "hurtful" and a "dagger to the heart".

"A good friend of mine, who I grew up with, asked me after London if I was doping and even now, it's one of the most hurtful things that was ever said to me," he revealed.

The 38-year-old also feels that those who have been found guilty of doping offences need to apologise, including those whose bans have expired.

"I was annoyed at the weekend when they came back because regardless if its their fault or not, I think they should come out. They need to recognise that there was a problem there. They need to apologise and there needs to be a cooling-off period and the anti-doping structure should be set up that when they are training that the rest of the world needs to have confidence that the athletes that are going to be coming out of there now are clean. They shouldn't be let back otherwise because it's an epidemic."

Discussing the Russian system with its top level training system but mired in revelations of state-sponsored systematic doping, Heffernan says of his philosophy, "The way I always look at it, for me, if I can do everything that the Russians are doing outside of the doping, I'm going to get good results. So if you can entice the good talent into our sport, which we're not doing here anyway - I only got into race-walking by chance and I've a VO2 max of over 80 and it was an event I took up in school - so how many other Rob Heffernans are out there? I was going to be a good endurance athlete whatever I did [due to VO2 max]."

Heffernan, who also looked back on some of the very highs and lows from previous Games, said, "Looking back on it now, I never ever had that top-end speed that the Russians were doing [and] that power. I couldn't even do it for 5K alone."