Another golden day for Ire­land:

Two more gold medals make 2017 the great­est year for Ir­ish row­ing

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

The two gold medals won by Ire­land at the World Row­ing Cham­pi­onships lifted the hearts of row­ing peo­ple and swept mem­o­ries back to Lucerne in 2001. At that World Cham­pi­onships, Ire­land took a sim­i­lar haul: gold in the lightweight pair and in the lightweight men’s sin­gle and lightweight women’s sin­gle.

But if the Lucerne haul topped the Florida one in terms of num­bers of golds won, Ir­ish in­ter­na­tional row­ing is in a bet­ter place now.

The golds in 2001 and in 2017 came in non-Olympic events. But Ire­land has a much stronger claim on Olympic events. And not just be­cause we took our first Olympic medal at the 2016 Games, through Paul O’Dono­van and Gary O’Dono­van, who could not com­pete in Florida.

There were five Ir­ish crews in ac­tion yes­ter­day, three of them in Olympic events. Sanita Pus­pure pow­ered into the A Fi­nal of the women’s sin­gle sculls, and the new Ire­land men’s pair con­tested the C Fi­nal, tak­ing 16th over­all. To­day, the new women’s pair will con­test a B fi­nal, with strong hopes of plac­ing in the top 10.

The big les­son Ire­land learned in the run up to Rio was to plan well in ad­vance: the two pairs are just start­ing out on the road to Tokyo, but there will be just one more Cham­pi­onships be­fore 2019, when Ire­land crews can qual­ify boats for the 2020 Games.

Pus­pure is al­ready a strong per­former in one of the top women’s events. She is 35, but heavy­weight sin­gle scullers are a lit­tle like heavy­weight box­ers: their 30s and be­yond can be very pro­duc­tive.

Paul O’Dono­van, of course, had never planned to be in Florida as a lightweight sin­gle sculler. The Olympic sil­ver won by him­self and el­der brother Gary hugely boosted the in­ter­est in the sport here. Their run fal­tered a lit­tle early in the 2017 sea­son, but they got back on track: they sil­ver at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships; sil­ver, bronze and a fourth place at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships.

All-con­quer­ing

In fact, set­ting aside that an Olympic medal which made 2016 his­toric, the 2017 sea­son is pos­si­bly the great­est for Ir­ish row­ing. Ir­ish crews, led by the all-con­quer­ing lightweight pair of Mark O’Dono­van and Shane O’Driscoll, took medals at ev­ery ma­jor re­gatta – all three World Cups, the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships and now the World Cham­pi­onships.

At the World Un­der-23 Cham­pi­onships Ire­land took bronze medals in both the lightweight men’s pair and lightweight quadru­ple.

At ju­nior level (un­der-18) there have also been suc­cesses: we took a sil­ver medal at the Euro­pean Ju­nior Cham­pi­onships and five gold medals at the Coupe de la Je­unesse, a Euro­pean ju­nior tour­na­ment.

Another en­cour­ag­ing sign was the re­turn to ac­tion of Rio Olympian Claire Lambe, who will be avail­able for the 2018 sea­son.

The chal­lenges the sport faces are mostly ones of a grow­ing force. The fi­nanc­ing by the Ir­ish Sports Coun­cil has not matched the rate of growth. And the big up­surge in young peo­ple turn­ing up at clubs look­ing to row has not al­ways been easy to deal with – not ev­ery­body can coach. On the pos­i­tive side, there is the in­no­va­tive Get Go­ing Get Row­ing pro­gramme, which has brought row­ing to schools which pre­vi­ously had no his­tory of it.

Even non-row­ers know that there is one club which has man­aged the trick of con­tin­u­ous pro­duc­tiv­ity in both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional row­ing. Sk­ib­bereen is the pin­na­cle. But coach Do­minic Casey is now a na­tional coach. He says he is open to all com­ers: if they are pre­pared to work and work and work.

The im­bal­ance of lightweights and heavy­weights at the top level will test the pro­gramme in years to come. The In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee now ac­cepts just two lightweight crews: women’s and men’s lightweight dou­bles. Yet some of the strong­est Ir­ish row­ers, both ma­ture and in the younger ranks, are lightweights. In­com­ing high per­for­mance di­rec­tor An­to­nio Mau­ro­gio­vanni hopes to take the magic the lightweights have cre­ated and spread it to their heav­ier team-mates.

There are some en­cour­ag­ing signs. Monika Dukarska, who will de­fend her World Coastal Row­ing ti­tle in Oc­to­ber, self-funded her­self as a sin­gle sculler to World Cup re­gat­tas. She could not match Pus­pure, but she showed that she would be a good ad­di­tion to the pro­gramme if she buys in for the sea­son ahead.

In two week’s time one of most joy­ful of Ir­ish row­ing oc­ca­sions, the Ir­ish Open, brings ev­ery prospec­tive in­ter­na­tional, from the O’Dono­vans down to am­bi­tious young­sters, to­gether. It should be quite an oc­ca­sion.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DETLEV SEYB/INPHO

Ire­land’s Paul O’Dono­van cel­e­brates win­ning the lightweight sin­gle sculls fi­nal in Sara­sota, Florida yes­ter­day.

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