Irish Olympic rowers Sinead Jennings and Claire Lambe are living the dream

The Rowing Ireland training facility on Inniscarra Lake is overlooked by a wooden-decked balcony.

On an early morning, if offers the same view as the sun, peeking over the horizon and across the water.

Day-in and day-out, Sinead Jennings and Claire Lambe are present on that lake but when they emerge onto the balcony for a post-training interview, Lambe quickly apologises for the veil of cobwebs on the seats.

“We don’t get to hang out here that much,” she says while brushing them away.

This summer Lambe and Jennings celebrated their first anniversary of teaming up in the lightweight double.

Lambe jokes that it was celebrated with “an extra bowl of porridge”.

It may have been an intense year for both but it’s nothing compared to the joy of qualification and the excitement of their impending Olympic debut.

Jennings, now 39 and a trainee GP, has been striving for this target since 2000, five Olympiads ago.

She finally hit the jackpot when teaming up with Lambe, a 26-year-old heading into an Engineering Masters in Cambridge, who had only the one failed attempt at Olympic qualification behind her.

“It was a bit of a whirlwind, at first. Our coach calls it the honeymoon period,” says Jennings of a pairing which yielded Olympic qualification within months.

“Sometimes you can get doubles that are made in heaven and it worked really well for us.”

As Jennings reassures herself, her knowledge of the bad days tells her that it’s not going too badly with Lambe by any stretch of the imagination.

A potted history of those bad days goes like this:

2000 – Talk about joining a lightweight double comes to naught and Jennings stays in the single – not an Olympic event – where she wins a World Championship bronze medal. Lambe is 10 at the time.

2004 – After adding a World gold medal to her collection, she moves into the double with Heather Boyle. They miss out on qualification by one-hundredth of a second.

2008 – As pairs fall apart due to injuries and poor performance, Jennings hopes for a run at the heavyweight single but is denied for “political reasons”.

She’s sent to the World Championships in the lightweight single and wins a silver medal.

2012 – Cycling Ireland approach Jennings about joining the team pursuit. She doesn’t have a rowing partner, so she accepts.

Needing a good finish to qualify at the final event, a puncture derails them and they are wrongly denied a false start.

The apology comes the next day, but it’s too late for their Olympic hopes.

Meanwhile, Lambe’s first Olympic effort was undone by weight management issues.

“We didn’t have ‘it’,” is her short summary. “I was too young and still needed more time. But I definitely learned a lot in those three years about how to train and how to be a lightweight – that’s an art in itself to learn the skills of making weight, doing it healthily and training properly.

It put me in the best position to row with someone as mature as Sinead and be strong enough to match her as well.”

Jennings did travel to London, however, to support her sister Catriona in the marathon and it reawakened her dormant Olympic dream.

“At that stage, I was telling myself, ‘Oh, going to the Olympics isn’t the be-all and end-all. ‘You have your World Championships and your World medals, and anyone can be an also-ran at the Olympics,’ was what I was trying to console myself with.

“But when I went to see my sister in London it really brought home that, ‘You haven’t really ticked all the boxes. You really want this.’

“She really was inspiring. It was good chatting to her about her experience and my husband (two-time world champion Sam Lynch) has been to two Games, so I’ve lots of advice.”

Since the lightweight pair teamed up, progress has been rapid and, with the exception of an injury Lambe sustained last spring, it’s been fun too.

“Sinead has taught me so much about being very positive whereas I’d usually be picking holes in everything I was doing,” says Lambe.

“She’s taught me to be a lot more confident in what I’m doing and believe that we are going fast, and when you have a good session to feel really satisfied with it.

“She’s good at getting me motivated for racing as well, (getting me) a bit more aggressive. So I’ve learned a lot.”

Jennings’ main lesson, though, is for her three children, Clodagh (5), Molly (3) and Hannah (1).

“I really like the girls to see that if you have a dream and you want to do it, you’ve to work bloody hard.

“But when you do achieve it, it’s amazing.

“I think they see that and if they can learn that from it, that’s great.

“They love going to the races. They have to love it because they’ve been to every kind since they were babies: running, swimming, cycling and rowing races.”

On Sunday they’ll be glued to the TV as their mother competes in the big one.


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