Ireland’s resurgence in rowing continued at the Lagoa Stadium near Ipanema when both lightweight double sculls teams qualified for their respective Olympics finals in Rio.
First, Claire Lambe and Sinead Lynch qualified for the women’s final by coming third behind the Netherlands and Canada, with just over two seconds to spare over Denmark in fourth.
Then, the O’Donovan brothers, Gary and Paul, overtook the fading British crew past the midway point to also book their place in tomorrow’s finals.
The Skibbereen duo were three seconds clear of the British pair of Will Fletcher and Richard Chambers, with only France and the USA faster than them, and the O’Donovans did indeed record the third-fastest time across both semi-finals, though neither is reading much significance into that.
Analysing their qualification, Paul O’Donovan said: “We knew the French were very quick starters and the British are as well, but ourselves and America, we always pace it more. The first strokes we go out hard but then we settle early.
“We knew if we stuck in there with the Americans, we’d truck on through down the middle.
“The British all year have been dying towards the last 500m, so we kept that in the back of our minds that we’ve had a good finish and they’ve had a bit of a slow one so we knew we could come through them at the end and that’s what happened.
“We were third in the end. We’d like to have won the thing but we have another chance of that tomorrow.
“Lane 1? How bad. We’ll take it. Number one, we’ll try and keep it going.”
For brother Gary, reaching the decider is a significant achievement, but he wasn’t going to take it granted earlier in the week: “It’s very exciting to be in an Olympic Final. There was no point thinking about the final yesterday or the day before.
“We had to get through the semi-final to be in with a chance of winning a medal. So the priority was to get through this race.
“And now we’re through, we can start planning and look forward and get excited about the final.”
For Lambe and Lynch, a bit of additional resolve was needed to climb from fourth to the qualifying position of third from halfway, in what was a tight finish ultimately.
Dubliner Lambe is enthused about holding off the Danish crew to reach the decider: “We’re absolutely delighted.
“That was the goal coming here and I knew today was the race that could have been the big regret if it didn’t go the right way or if we hadn’t executed our best race.
“So it’s just kind of a relief as well. We’re ecstatic to be in that final as well. Now, anything can happen tomorrow.
“We got a good distance on the Danes and I knew we had to hold it down to the line. I knew they would come back on us because they are very good sprinters. We knew we were holding our rhythm well and holding our distance through the race and I was confident we could do it.”
With the men’s pair drawn for Lane 1 in their final, Lambe and Lynch will be in Lane 6, and Lambe approves of that: “Lane 6 is brilliant. Closer to the crowd! The crowd are fantastic, it’s amazing the amount who have come all the way out here. It’s brilliant.”
For Sinead Lynch, reaching the Olympic final is the culmination of her second career in rowing, having stepped away from the sport previously: “After the Worlds last year, we knew we were a good crew and we wanted to make the most of the year.
“I didn’t have a brilliant winter, technically I was working on a few things, and for it all to come good at the right time feels amazing.
“It feels absolutely fabulous. I suppose on two levels, the years I put in before and the journey coming back,
“It has been brilliant rowing with Claire, and if things didn’t work here, I could still say I really enjoyed that.
“But being away from my family for so much of this year, I felt if I hadn’t got the results here, then it would have been a waste.
“Being near the crowd for the final will be brilliant.”
Meanwhile, the O’Donovan brothers have been reflecting on their new-found fame due to the breath of fresh air their post-race interviews are breathing into the sport.
Paul remarked: “That went out everywhere! We didn’t think that would happen at all. We went out here thinking ‘that was grand’, and then we heard from home that it was doing this spiral thing on the interweb. Everyone was talking about it then.”
Says Gary: “We’re delighted about (the publicity). We love the sport of rowing and we’d do anything we can to promote it.
“We take great pride in it and we’re delighted we can be representatives and ambassadors for the sport, not just for Skibbereen and Skibbereen Rowing Club but the sport as well.”
Will their fame – and that of Lambe and Lynch - grow even more tomorrow?