On the eve of St Patrick’s Day, the Emerald Isle’s very own 50km racewalking world champion Robert Heffernan tells SPIKES what the celebratory Irish day means to him.

“St Paddy’s Day is great. It embraces that whole Irish culture of music, dancing, the people and, of course, overindulging – the drinking. There are lots of other aspects to the day and it is celebrated all around the world.

“When I was younger growing up in Cork [Ireland’s second city] we would get dressed up, put on our Sunday best complete with shamrock, and walk the parade.

“I have spent St Patrick’s Day in several places all over the world and I remember when I was training in Johannesburg with Robert Korzeniowski [four-time Olympic racewalking champion] we went to a bar and had a couple of pints of Guinness to mark the occasion.

Robert Heffernan ()

Heffernan is congratulated by his wife, Irish 400m runner Marian (née Andrews), after winning at the Moscow world champs.

“My all-time favourite St Patrick’s memory came last year when we celebrated the great Irish day by getting our daughter, Regan, christened. My wife’s brother came out all the way from Australia to celebrate. I was world champion at the time and to get my daughter christened on that day really stood out. Normally you are not supposed to christen a child on St Paddy’s Day, but I got special dispensation.

“I never normally drink alcohol when I’m training now and as I race a 50km on Saturday I will not be drinking on St Patrick’s Day this year. I try and avoid it all costs because it could be career-ending and I have plenty of years to celebrate with alcohol once I am retired!

“Yet if I was to celebrate the day with three athletes I would pick Usain Bolt because on a down day I think he would be good craic. Valerie Adams, because she would down a few pints and be able to carry me home! And the Australian race walker Luke Adams whom I’ve shared some good fun nights out with before.

“St Patrick’s Day is unforgettable. There is always a brilliant atmosphere. People are just out to have fun and relax. Irish people love having the craic, singing and having great conversation.

“I once recall celebrating the day in San Diego after I had raced in Mexico. It was bananas. I even had Chinese Americans coming up to me telling me they were Irish.”