With four crews qualified for Tokyo, and a clutch of medals, Ireland’s rowers have much to celebrate following the world championships in Austria.
The champions made successful defences of their titles, but the up-and-coming stars brought a new dimension to the sport, particularly in heavyweight rowing, which has been barren territory for Ireland in recent years.
When Sanita Puspure raced to the gold in the women’s single sculls, it marked another major milestone for the 37-year-old star from Old Collegians.
Great Britain’s Vicky Thornley took the early lead in today’s final, before Emma Twigg, of New Zealand, came through, with Puspure in hot pursuit, at 500m.
At 1,300m, the gap had narrowed, and with 350m to go, Puspure changed gear and kicked in hard to take the lead, crossing the line with clear water to take the gold.
“I was trying to scull my own race, but it took a little longer to get into my rhythm,” she said, “but when I thought I was coming back, I knew I was going to crack her (Twigg). It feels great, but it will probably take a few days to think about what happened,” she added.
Earlier in the day, Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne took silver, behind China, in the men’s double sculls.
That was the first heavyweight men’s medal for Ireland’s rowers since Sean Drea won silver in the single sculls at the 1975 world championships.
It’s an honour. I don’t think the whole celebrations have really set in yet. It’s all a bit surreal, but everyone is delighted; the buzz is starting to pick up now.
Saturday’s programme saw Olympic silver medallist Paul O’Donovan make a successful defence of his world title, when the new-look lightweight double scull, with Skibbereen’s Fintan McCarthy as his partner, cruised to victory.
O’Donovan and McCarthy went off at a 55 strokes a minute, but were sixth after 250m, with Spain, Germany, and Italy level for the lead.
But Ireland kicked in hard at 500m, gaining momentum all the way to 1,000m, where they forged their way between German and Italy to take the lead.
The partisan crowd of Irish supporters in Linz went wild, as their heroes took clear water to sprint home for gold.
“It was on a par, at least, with what myself and Gary did last year,” said O’Donovan afterwards.
“Brilliant,” added an exhausted McCarthy.
Aileen Crowley and Monika Dukarska also qualified for the women’s pair for Tokyo, after finishing second to Romania in their B final.
Ireland took the lead, ahead of China, early in the race, before Romania came through after 1,500m to cross the line 1.8 sec ahead of Crowley and Dukarska.
Despite missing a chance at the medals, the qualification rules meant that the top eight crews in the world would qualify for the Olympic regatta, ensuring Ireland another Olympic spot.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic. We knew they could do it. They’ve been knocking on the door since last year, and its very rewarding to see them qualify,” said Rowing Ireland CEO, Michelle Carpenter.
On Friday, newcomer Katie O’Brien won bronze in the para single scull, which was all the more remarkable because she lined up alongside athletes with years of experience.
Australia’s Kathryn Ross, holder of the world best time in this boat class, took gold, ahead of the Netherlands’s Anneke van der Meer, with O’Brien just five seconds adrift in third.
“With four boats qualified for Tokyo, it’s a proud day for Rowing Ireland,” said Carpenter.
Paul O’Donovan, Fintan McCarthy; Women’s single scull: Sanita Puspure; Women’s pair Aileen Crowley, Monika Dukarska; Men’s double scull Philip Doyle, Ronan Byrne.