#Rowing: The two crews which won gold for Ireland at the World Championships, the lightweight men’s double of Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy and single sculler Sanita Puspure, are the Afloat Rowers of the Month for August.
The month was quite extraordinary. The Ireland double of Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne qualified their boat for Tokyo at the World Championships in Linz-Ottensheim and then went on to take silver with an assured, technically impressive, performance in a gripping final; the women’s pair of Aileen Crowley and Monika Dukarska secured qualification with second in their B Final, eighth overall, well within the 11 places allotted for Tokyo. Along with the two gold-medal boats, this brought the Ireland complement for the Olympic Games to four, a record in the era of boats having to qualify through set competition.
The Championships had also been a joyful one for Katie O’Brien. She took Ireland’s first medal, a bronze, in the PR2 single sculls on her 23rd birthday.
Ireland crews came up just short of podium finishes at the Coupe de la Jeunesse and the World Junior Championships. Back in Ireland, the two Coastal Rowing Championships generated fine entries and plenty of excitement.
The pressure was on Sanita Puspure and the lightweight double in Austria. Puspure’s year was affected by family bereavement. She was defending a title in a keenly-contested category. Looking back, her achievement can seem pre-ordained – it was not. She won her early races by big margins, consigning former Olympic champion Mirka Topinkova Knapkova to a distant second in her quarter-final. And then came the semi-final. Emma Twigg of New Zealand had made no secret of her ambition of ousting her friend from her eminent position. Puspure never let her get the chance, outpacing her in each of the four quarters. The final, on September 1st, would see Twigg try to win from the front. It was desperate stuff, and Puspure, knowing she had the resources to do it, waited her out and rowed through her.
Nominally, the Ireland lightweight double were defending their title. But this was a new combination, with Fintan McCarthy coming in to partner Paul O’Donovan. The finish of their semi-final was nail-biting, as three boats (Ireland, Germany, Norway) were covered by .69 of a second. In the final the feeling of jeopardy lasted the whole race. Ireland had a poor first quarter, which left them trailing the field, produced a ridiculously good middle thousand in which they passed Germany and Italy, and then gritted it out to take a clearwater win. The exhaustion – physical, mental – of the second-placed Italy crew of Pietro Ruta and Stefano Oppo after the race was affecting. They looked like they could not process what had happened to them.
Rower of the Month awards: The judging panel is made up of Liam Gorman, rowing correspondent of The Irish Times and David O'Brien, Editor of Afloat magazine. Monthly awards for achievements during the year will appear on afloat.ie. Keep a monthly eye on progress and watch our 2019 champions list grow.