Sanita Puspure wasn’t making a huge deal of it but one of Ireland’s leading medal hopes was at least thankful to have put her Olympic semi-final “curse” to bed at the third time of asking.
This is the 38-year old single sculler’s third Games but the first time she has progressed to this point. In London, nine years ago, she fell over three seconds short of a semi spot in the quarter-finals. In Rio, in 2016, she was 0.65 seconds shy of making it.
Puspure made mention of that hex in speaking to RTÉ after her race on Sunday morning but only in passing. The Ballincollig woman has been a different athlete since 2017, winning world and European titles, and she has looked formidable here in Tokyo.
An impressive opening heat on Friday was followed up on Sunday morning with another win, this time in the quarter-final, as she led the USA’s Kara Kohler and China’s Yan Jiang home. There wasn’t a hint of effort in it, even if she is still trying to nail a better start.
“Yeah, my performance is going to go up with every race, so I’m confident in the programme that we did in the last month. Yeah, technical execution could have been a little bit better, but I still have some time to work on it again, on Tuesday.” Puspure was the only Irish rower on the water at Dorney Lake when London hosted in 2012. She is one of 13 in action in Tokyo and all six crews have made the semi-finals of their events, with two doing so via the repechage today.
Aileen Crowley and Monika Dukarska got the Irish effort underway by finishing third of four entrants in the women’s pair, their progression all but guaranteed by a Chinese crew that came in over 17 seconds behind the Greek boat that was first over the line.
Margaret Cremen and Aoife Casey also progressed via their repechage with the lightweight double sculls crew coming in third of six. Here again, there was considerable less pressure thanks to the struggles of others with the last three crews trailing in by 20, 31 and 51 seconds respectively.
Much tougher assignments await.
The big disappointment for the Irish rowing outfit both today and over the course of this regatta, has been the inability of Ronan Byrne and Philip Doyle to find their stride. Silver medallists in the World Championships in 2019, they simply haven’t clicked.
The duo came in last of four in their double sculls semi-final, having got that far via another repechage, and they are now out of medal contention. Their form had all but confirmed that before now as they face up to the dubious consolation of a shot at the B final.
The approach of Tropical Storm Nepartak has shifted the schedule at the Sea Forest Waterway, and there will be no action tomorrow as the weather makes its mark, but four days of medal races are pencilled in from Tuesday through to Friday.
Ireland will have high hopes across the week.
Puspure will be chasing gold, not just a spot on the podium, while the men’s lightweight double pair of Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy are the hottest of favourites. Like Puspure, they looked exceptionally calm and in control when they took to the water.
Added to all this is the women’s four, a boat comprising of Fiona Murtagh, Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh and Emily Hegarty. They gave a hugely encouraging display in their semi-final in pushing a highly-rated Australian crew all the way to the finish line.