Florida gold rush for Ire­land

Lightweight pair cap a per­fect year, while Paul O’Dono­van re­tains his ti­tle

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Liam Gor­man

How con­fi­dent an Ir­ish team can be when they know what they are do­ing. Two crews went out and won gold medals at the World Row­ing Cham­pi­onships with per­for­mances laced with grit, but back­boned by self-be­lief.

The Ire­land lightweight pair of Mark O’Dono­van and Shane O’Driscoll capped a per­fect year with their fifth gold of the sea­son at Sara­sota-Braden­ton in Florida, while Paul O’Dono­van de­fended his ti­tle in the lightweight sin­gle. And the day had started with Sanita Pus­pure tak­ing a place in an A Fi­nal.

The early stages of the lightweight pairs fi­nal saw a num­ber of crews dis­pute the lead. But then O’Driscoll and O’Dono­van took off. After a start in which they pro­duced an eye­wa­ter­ing 56 strokes a minute, they were then able to up their rate again to 47 strokes a minute, and shot into the lead.

Brazil and then Italy tried to close on them, but the two Sk­ib­bereen men con­tin­ued to strike rates in the mid 40s. They won from Italy and Brazil, with Bri­tain fourth.

Paul O’Dono­van had not cho­sen to race in the lightweight sin­gle, but once his brother Gary was forced out of the lightweight dou­ble through ill­ness, Paul be­came the favourite to match the gold he won last year in Rot­ter­dam.

Strange boat

He did it by win­ning his fourth race in a row in a boat that he had never com­peted in be­fore. The lightweight dou­ble was shipped to Florida. Paul had no boat ready. The man­u­fac­tur­ers, Em­pacher, stepped into the breach and pro­vided one. Paul’s feet are much higher and more vis­i­ble than is usual.

And yet he pro­duced a set of pow­er­ful per­for­mances, not least in the fi­nal. Michael Sch­mid of Switzer­land led un­til 850m in. O’Dono­van pushed into a small lead, then ex­tended it steadily. In the fi­nal quar­ter he had a clear­wa­ter ad­van­tage. Be­hind him Matthew Dun­ham of New Zealand sculled well to take sec­ond ahead of Kristof­fer Brun of Nor­way. Sch­mid, de­spite all his ef­fort, missed out.

O’Dono­van said “it was the heat more than the phys­i­cal ef­fort,” that had made it a tough chal­lenge. “The ef­fort was about the same as last year.”

The mous­taches he and the Mark and Shane had sported after a bit of craic in Spain might have helped, he agreed, laugh­ing.

On the high rates of O’Dono­van and O’Driscoll, he said: “Some peo­ple make too much of tech­nique. Speed is what tells.”

Sharp Pus­pure

Denise Walsh never got a proper hold of her lightweight sin­gle fi­nal. A bat­tle at the head of the field de­vel­oped, but it was be­tween Kirsten McCann of South Africa and Marieke Kei­jser of the Nether­lands, with the South African win­ning. Walsh did not bridge the gap.

“She just didn’t get into it,” said coach Do­minic Casey, who praised his young charge for do­ing so well at the re­gatta.

Pus­pure sculled won­der­fully well to take her place in the A Fi­nal of the women’s sin­gle sculls.

The 35-year-old pushed at half­way to move into the all im­por­tant top three and then again after 1,500m to se­cure her place. In­deed, in a thrilling fin­ish, Pus­pure was just two hun­dredths of a sec­ond off the win­ner, Jean­nine Gmelin of Switzer­land. Mag­dalena Lob­nig of Aus­tria took the valu­able third spot from Felice Mueller of the United States – by one-tenth of a sec­ond.

The first semi-fi­nal had been slower – so Pus­pure goes into Sunday’s fi­nal (2.38 Ir­ish time) with the sec­ond fastest time over­all.

It has been quite a rough year for Pus­pure: she bat­tled with ill­ness and twice had to re­turn to Latvia for fam­ily fu­ner­als, one of them dur­ing the fi­nal week of the pre-Cham­pi­onships train­ing camp in Spain.

The worry was that this would in­ter­fere with prepa­ra­tion for Florida, but Pus­pure has looked re­ally sharp. In the semi-fi­nal she raced as per the race plan. And it worked.

Satur­day brings a B Fi­nal for the women’s pair of Aileen Crow­ley and Aifric Keogh (2 o’clock Ir­ish time). This crew, which has com­peted just once be­fore (in the World Cup at Poz­nan), will be tar­get­ing a place as high as eighth over­all.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DETLEV SEYB/INPHO

Ire­land’s lightweight pair Mark O’Dono­van and Shane O’Driscoll cel­e­brate win­ning gold.

Paul O’Dono­van: re­tained his lightweight sin­gle scull ti­tle

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