World champion Gary O’Donovan crashed out of the race for medals on the opening day of the European Championships in Switzerland today. The Skibbereen man, racing for the first time at international level in the single scull, looked off the race pace in his morning heat, but had a second chance in the afternoon’s repechages.
Still trailing the field at halfway, and with only the first three progressing to the semi-finals, the crowds waited expectantly for the Olympic silver medallist to work his way back through the pack into a qualifying position. But the charge for the line never came, and Ireland supporters watched in disbelief as O’Donovan could only manage fourth place.
Ask Jarl Tjoem of Norway qualified first, ahead of Enes Yenipazarli of Turkey and Serbia’s Milos Stanojevic, while O’Donovan will now contest tomorrow's C final for places 13-18. But there was better news for Ireland’s other crews in Lucerne, including world champion Sanita Puspure in the women’s single sculls.
In her opening heat she lined up alongside Great Britain’s Vicky Thornley whose 2018 season was cut short due to overtraining, causing her to miss both the European and World Championships. Puspure flew straight off the start to lead Thornley by 0.25 at 500m, and increasing her lead to 1.3 seconds at the halfway mark.
The world champion continued to scull the fastest splits of the field right down the course, and with Thornley leading her nearest rival by clear water there was no need for the leaders to overextend themselves. Puspure and Thornley qualified directly for today’s semi-finals where the Old Collegian sculler will line up alongside Mirka Knapkova, the 2012 Olympic champion from the Czech Republic.
In the lightweight men’s double sculls Fintan and Jacob McCarthy caused a stir when they came right back into a qualifying position after trailing for much of the race. The Skibbereen twins, who have twice represented Ireland at U23 level, emulated the O’Donovans’ standard race plan by placing last after 500m and moving up to fourth at halfway.
With only the leading two doubles qualifying direct it was going to take a massive effort to go through, but coach Dominic Casey’s new charges duly delivered, sculling the fastest split of the field to squeeze home behind Italy’s Stefano Oppo and Pietro Ruta. There were more surprises to come in the men’s double sculls, where the Banbridge/UCC composite of Phil Doyle and Ronan Byrne exceeded pre-race expectations and led the six-boat field from start to finish.
With Ioan Prundeanu and Marian-Florian Enache, the seasoned campaigners from Romania, in hot pursuit Doyle and Byrne continued to lead the Romanians. A finishing charge saw the Irish double cross the line more than three seconds clear, to progress direct to the semis with Romania.
Casey’s new lightweight women’s double (Lydia Heaphy and Denise Walsh) also had a promising start to their international season by placing third in their heat and moving direct to the semi-finals. The new GB double of Ellie Piggott and Imogen Grant led off the start before being overhauled by Switzerland’s Patricia Merz and Frederique Rol, while Casey and Heaphy stayed well clear of the chasing Spanish crew.
Meanwhile Belfast’s Rebecca Shorten, rowing at six in the Great Britain women’s eight, made certain of a favoured lane for tomorrow’s final by winning their test race ahead of Romania, Russia and the Netherlands.
“The team produced some solid performances today. The event is the start of a season-long campaign that will peak at the World Championships” said Rowing Ireland CEO Michelle Carpenter.
“We look forward to watching more racing from the team as they head into the semifinals with competition becoming tougher and everyone wanting to make their mark on what will be a key year” she added.