By Robert Treharne Jones
The fourth day of racing at the World Championships in Bulgaria yesterday saw Paul and Gary O’Donovan storm home to victory in their quarter-final, while Ireland’s lightweight men’s quad came through the repechages to qualify for tomorrow’s A final.
In the lightweight doubles, the Olympic silver-medallists lined up at the start alongside their arch-rivals, Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli of Norway, who took the European title ahead of Ireland six weeks ago in Glasgow.
But it was the Austrians, Julian Schoeberl and Paul Sieber, who led the six-boat field off the start with the O’Donovans languishing in fourth place after 500m.
But Irish supporters in the stands were used to seeing their heroes pace their race to perfection and so it proved.
At the halfway mark the Skibbereen men took the rate up to overhaul Switzerland for third place, and then began their attack on Norway.
With 500m to go, Brun and Strandli succumbed to a blistering attack as the O’Donovans found another gear, and in a late charge for the line Ireland finally overcame Austria.
Their winning time of 6 mins 44.44 secs placed Ireland as the fastest qualifier for today’s semi-finals.
With blustery winds blowing across the Plovdiv course some federations appealed for unfair conditions, but an appeal allowed all the results to stand.
Ireland’s lightweight quad scull at these championships includes four athletes who competed at the Under-23 world championships two months ago in Poland.
Portora’s Ryan Ballantine and Andrew Goff of UCD won silver in the lightweight quad while Jake and Fintan McCarthy were finalists in the lightweight double.
But despite their age and lack of senior experience, they finished second to Turkey in their repechage, with both crews progressing to the medal final tomorrow.
Turkey made the early running, with Ireland in hot pursuit, and after 750m the leaders had broken clear of the trailing pack. Norway worked their way through the field, but another push from Ireland held the challengers at bay.
“We knew from our heat that we were too slow to 1000m so we went out fast and tried to maintain that,” said Ballantine.
The warm weather and humid conditions in Bulgaria has produced some challenges for the four men who are used to rather different conditions back home.
“We’re used to slower water — here you have to get the stroke in quick, otherwise you miss it completely,” said Jacob McCarthy. The young crew, all aged 21, admitted they were learning something every day, “This is a big step up from Under-23s — experience plays a big role in how these crews perform,” added McCarthy.
Ballantine was upbeat about their chances of a medal come the final.
“We know we have another gear and we’re enjoying every minute, so hopefully we’ll bring something home,” he said.
But there was disappointment for Monika Dukarska and Aileen Crowley in their repechage of the women’s double sculls.
A strong start meant second place behind Germany after 500m but Dukarska and Crowley ran out of steam down the second quarter and trailed in fifth at the finish.
The day ended in dramatic fashion after racing was called off because of the conditions, which threatened to become unfair. It means that Ronan Byrne and Philip Doyle will now race their repechage of the men’s double sculls today as will reigning lightweight champions Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan in their first World Championships quarter-final as heavyweights.