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Olympic flame still burning on Leeside

Wednesday, 25th March, 2020 3:39pm

“The goal posts have been moved, but this isn’t going to last forever so you can’t just lie down and die.”

Those were the words of athlete and Olympic medallist Rob Heffernan who was responding to the news that the Tokyo Olympics 2020 have been postponed for one year.

Heffernan, who retired from competitive race walking in 2018, was training four athletes for the upcoming Olympic games when the news broke.

“We’re continuing to train really hard. We were meant to compete in the World Cup in Belarus in May and were meant to be doing altitude training now in Spain,” he told the Cork Independent.

“We'll just refocus for the Olympics next year. If it comes to it the lads will get a treadmill for the house. We’re not going to stop. We’ll be ready to go back at it once everything clears up,” he added.

Earlier this week the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced that the Olympic 2020 games, which were set to be held in Tokyo this summer, will be postponed until summer 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland welcomed the decision and said it would now be focusing on protecting and safeguarding Irish athletes and ensuring that they are fully prepared for 2021.

Heffernan, who was the first Irish athlete to ever compete in five separate Olympic games, said he would have been devastated had he missed the opportunity to compete.

“I’d have been distraught. I was so fixated on winning a medal in London in 2012 after coming eighth in the Olympics in Beijing. My only option was to win a medal in London, and every single day for four years was mapped out for that day.

“It would have shattered me to not be able to compete. But I never dwell on the negative for too long,” said Heffernan.

Brendan Boyce and David Kenny are among the racewalkers who Heffernan is coaching for the Olympic games.

Sport Ireland, which oversees and partly funds sports development in Ireland, confirmed this week that it will maintain the same level of funding for Irish athletes throughout 2020, despite the postponement of the Olympic games.

Funding of €9.4 million had been allocated to high-performing Irish athletes for 2020, and Sport Ireland has indicated that this sum will be paid over the course of the year, despite the current crisis.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland CEO, Peter Sherrard welcomed the decision to delay the games until 2021, acknowledging the complexities involved in such a move. He said: “This is the right call given the times that we are in.

“Nonetheless we recognize it was a difficult call for Japan to make, and we are looking forward to working with the IOC and countries all over the world to make Tokyo 2021 a poignant moment for the whole world once these difficult times are over.”

Tokyo Chef de Mission, Tricia Heberle added: “This decision, while totally appropriate, will impact on sport and our athletes in different ways. There will be mixed emotions. Our focus is to continue to engage with and support our sports as we gather as much information to determine how this will impact on both athletes who have already qualified and those who are on the path to qualification.”

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