Gary and Paul O’Donovan power into Olympic medal reckoning

Back on the water after high winds led to the cancellation of Sunday’s programme, it was worth the wait for Ireland at the Lagoa Rowing Stadium yesterday.

With Gary and Paul O’Donovan winning their heat in the lightweight double sculls, and Sinead Jennings and Claire Lambe coming second in the qualifying of the women’s equivalent, both pairs advanced to the semi-finals.

There are high hopes particularly for the Skibbereen brothers who came here as European champions. Granted pre-Olympic favourites France didn’t race at that event, but even so, they set a pace here that suggests they can mix it with Norway and South Africa to get amongst the medals.

After a steady start in this one they trailed Italy by half a boat length through the first half, but upped the tempo thereafter and, known for their fast finish, surged ahead to victory.

So impressive was the performance in fact two-time Olympian Neville Maxwell suggested that “with the fastest time in races today, Ireland are right in there with the chance of a medal”.

However the crew were just happy to take their first dip into the Olympic waters and come out with more racing to look forward to. “Christ yeah we’re happy enough,” said Gary.

“We can’t complain. Our goal was to come out here and try and win the race and we did that.

“We executed a really good race plan and we were confident. I think the first 100 or 200 metres we keep pace with them and then we lengthen out a bit and settle into our mid-race pace because it is a long race, 2,000 metres, about six minutes so you can’t go flat out the whole way.

“Once we start to settle they edge away a little bit but we know then we’re going to come back once they can’t hold it. The second half of the race is when we come into our own.”

“Since we started the Olympic campaign every time we went out to race we’ve always wanted to win and we’ve tried to win,” added Paul.

“Even last year when it seemed a bit unrealistic to be challenging the top guys. We haven’t always succeeded but we’ve never backed down.”

Their efforts came after Jennings — a pharmacist, doctor, and international cyclist before adding Olympic rower to a stunning CV — and Lambe advanced in a time of 7:10.01.

The pattern for their race was set in the early stages as they tucked in behind eventual winners South Africa who finished with three seconds to spare, and were never challenged by the host nation in behind.

“We did get a good draw,” said Jennings. “So there was an awful lot to lose if we didn’t come through it. So when the South Africans got a really good start, we had two options, to chase after them, but then the water got a bit rough, so if we chased after them, and something happened, that would be terrible. So we just consolidated second.”

On this form, a final may be beyond them, but having come 10th at the worlds where there were 11 qualification places on offer, taking the first step is also a big step with Lambe noting: “Yeah, I was making calls about where the South Africans were. At one point I thought they were coming back, and we could close out, but then they pulled out again, so I called that to Sinead, and we just held it.

“But we felt good. I definitely think there’s a lot more in the tank. But we’re saving it for the semi-final. We’ll need it there. We’ll have one more training session, maybe improve our start, because that didn’t go 100% today.”

Both pairs are due to go in their semi-finals tomorrow, while Sanita Puspure goes in the semi-finals of the women’s single sculls at 1.10pm today

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