Irish Rowing Team manager Feargal O'Callaghan has praised two-time world champion Sanita Puspure as the Cork rower suffered a shock defeat in her women’s single sculls semi-final on Thursday morning.
Fifth place meant Ballincollig’s Puspure failed to make the final, despite expectations that the 2018 and 2019 world champion would join Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy in bringing home a medal from Japan.
Initially due to compete in Friday's 'B' final, Sanita has now pulled out of that race, saying she is feeling unwell.
"Over the past few days I have not been well, and I had to make the difficult decision to withdraw from the Olympic Regatta," she said.
"This is really disappointing, as I had been going well over the past few months and had hoped to continue this good form. The Olympics is always a big goal so it’s heartbreaking to have to pull out in this manner.”
Before that announcement, O'Callaghan said he was "devastated" for Puspure.
“I can’t imagine how she feels myself to be honest,” said O’Callaghan after a “bittersweet” day for Ireland’s rowers. “I feel devastated for her. Sanita was flying the flag for Irish rowing when nobody else was.”
Puspure was Ireland’s only rower at London 2012 and is being credited by O’Callaghan as being instrumental in the dramatic increase in the popularity and the success of the sport here in the last decade.
“I think she’s been a credit to her country,” he said. “She’s a two-time world champion and we should never forget that. She’s a proud mother, a proud wife and she has a lovely family at home that she represents really, really well and I’m sure at this stage she can’t wait to get home and be with her family. I feel gutted for her.
“She has done rowing and Ireland proud. She can hold her head high knowing what she has done. She has inspired young boys and young girls all over the country to take up rowing and other sports.”
Team manager O’Callaghan added that all Ireland’s rowers in Tokyo deserve to be given huge credit, emphasising how few athletes get to compete in the Olympic Games.
“We have to give credit to these rowers that have done well and those who didn’t do as well as they would have liked. To come here and put yourself on show in front of the world, it takes a huge amount of guts, regardless of what way the result goes.
“There’s not many people who do it, who put themselves out there like these guys do. We have to take our hat off to them regardless of what result they get.”