Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy lived up to their considerable billing by romping to a win in their men’s lightweight double sculls heat at the Sea Forest Waterway here in Tokyo on Saturday morning.
The Skibbereen pair cruised home over four seconds ahead of the Czech boat in second place. The script went along similar lines in the other heats with the fancied crews from Italy, Germany, Belgium and Norway all claiming their own spots in Tuesday’s semi-final.
It's an event that is bubbling up nicely.
“I suppose it went reasonably well, yeah,” said a relaxed O’Donovan after the race and a long warm-down in weather conditions that threatened the mid-thirties. “We won the race and its hard to do much better than win the race.
“And you don’t want to win it by 20 seconds either because it’s very hot out there. I’m not saying we could have won it by 20 seconds. It was still tough, like.
This was a first Olympic race for McCarthy but the younger man has already claimed a European title alongside O’Donovan – and a European bronze as a single sculler – and he was every bit as relaxed as his partner after this most reassuring of efforts.
“Once we’re out of the village and down here it just feels like a normal regatta really,” said the 24-year old. “It was nice to get the first one done.”
There was another exceptional row from the women’s four of Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty who pushed the fancied Australian crew all the way in their semi-final before finishing a comfortable second.
Their reward now is a place in the final and the big time is nothing new to them having claimed silver at the Europeans in Varese last April. The Netherlands crew that won there will carry the tag of favourites again here when they line up again on Wednesday.
“It was exciting,” said Keogh. “It was great to get going. We had been waiting since yesterday when the rest of the crew started and then this morning as well, kind of sitting there waiting to go in. So it was a relief to go out there and give a good performance.
“We hadn’t raced that crew specifically before. The last time we would have come up against an Australian crew was 2019 so it’s been a long time since we raced them.”
It was, however, a mixed day for the Irish rowing team with the men’s heavyweight double sculls crew of Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne scraping through their repechage and into the semi-finals, finishing third of the four boats on show.
They need to find something and quickly.
“We were struggling a small bit again today, similar to yesterday (when they finished last in their heat),” said Byrne. “We’re just searching for something to click, we’re not quite sure what it is. We’re searching for that tomorrow, which is obviously going to be the hardest of the rounds so far.”
Byrne and Doyle have turned their form around before, finishing tenth at the Europeans in 2019 and then claiming silver at the Worlds, and again earlier this year when recording a disappointing Europeans but recovering with an excellent effort at the World Cup event in Lucerne.
Time is not on their side here.
Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen posted a disappointing result in the lightweight sculls, the fifth place result in their heat leaving them a full 14 seconds adrift of first-placed France and redirecting them into a repechage of their own.
Monika Dukarska and Aileen Crowley will have to navigate the same route after the women’s pair also came in fifth. A mixed bag, then, but O’Donovan made some salient points when this early form book was presented to him.
“A little bit of mixed results from the team but at the Olympics all the races are very hard because all the crews are quite restricted. So the progression into the next round is always going to be harder because there are less places.
“So even though some of them didn’t make it straight through they are still within touching distance of doing really well and there is time yet to turn things around.
“Today now we had a few crews that pressed on, Sanita (Puspure) as well yesterday, and the rest of them still have a chance in the repechages as well. So we are all hopeful that they will give that a good go as well.”