Irish women’s four crew win European rowing silver medal

Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh, Tara Hanlon and Natalie Long open Ireland’s medal account

A typically aggressive and determined effort by the women’s four crew has opened Ireland’s medal account at the 2022 multi-sport European Championships in Munich, with Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh, Tara Hanlon and Natalie Long winning the silver medal as the A-finals got under way on Saturday at the Olympic regatta venue.

It was an exciting race which saw the Irish boat take out the early pace and build a narrow advantage over Britain, the title favourites who won gold at both of the World Cups that they attended earlier in the season, in Belgrade and Poznan.

It was a brave and bold tactic by the Irish women, the silver medal certainly well earned. The British crew drew calmly alongside at 500m and by the third quarter of the race had pulled well clear. Sill Lambe, Keogh, Hanlon and Long kept to their own task and finished a clear second, the British boat clocking 6:50.92, the Irish 2.07 seconds down, with Romania coming through to take the bronze medals, 2.91 seconds down on the British.

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For Lambe and Keogh the European silver also adds to their Olympic bronze won in Tokyo last summer, and it’s unlikely to be the last medal won by the Irish. This was one of 11 medal events on Saturday, with another 12 to come on Sunday.

The British four were impressive winners: in Poznan, they won by six seconds, setting a new World Cup best time in the process.

“We are very much second-half racers, that’s very much been our strength in the past,” Keogh said of the Irish race tactics. “This weekend we are trying something new. We are trying to be brave and to go off in the first half and then hopefully fall back on that strength that we have. Probably haven’t mastered it just yet but we learned a lot from this weekend and it’s definitely something we can build on from here.”

Given her Olympic medal winning experience, Lambe may have felt under some pressure although she didn’t see it that way: “Not really, to be honest. We were really good. We knew we were underdogs coming in to it. We managed to grab a bronze medal at the World Cup (in Poznan) but I don’t think that was really expected. We knew externally that people saw us as a medal chance but we tried not to think about that. It was just our crew and our focus the whole way.”

In truth the four rowers have only been together for the last month and a half, and next month’s World Championships in the Czech Republic is the next big target. Hanlon and Long will only improve with time.

“Tara and myself are brand new to the crew,” said Long, “so we are getting used to rowing with Olympic medallists and getting ourselves up to that bar but we also know that pressure is a privilege and if there is pressure on us then it means we are capable of good things.”

“They (Lambe and Keogh) are carrying us at this stage. We came down to Cork and it was them two who whipped us into shape the last few weeks so we are so grateful for that and to have such a big group to be able to do that. Not a lot of teams have that, that strength in depth to take a step back for a couple of months and step back into a really fast crew, so we are very lucky with what we have.”

Earlier in the morning, the women’s pair of Emily Hegarty and Fiona Murtagh finished fourth in their final, both those rowers were also part of the women’s four in Tokyo last summer.

Romania were the somewhat surprising winners here, the pair of Ioana Vrinceanu and Denisa Tilvescu, celebrating her 26th birthday, overtaking Britain late on, with both rowers formerly part of the Romanian eight.

Their time was 7:34.41, 1.79 seconds ahead of Britain’s Emily Ford and Esme Booth. The Irish pair were 10.72 seconds down in fourth place. Croatia and Greece finished fifth and sixth.

Lambe also explained the reasons behind the changing line-up in the Irish women’s crews: “Tomorrow we could be in different boats. They kind of keep us on our toes, we all need to be constantly pushing to be our very best. There’s no time in the season to sit back and be comfortable in a seat so there’s a lot of fluidity, anything can change, and that’s good. That’s what keeps us training hard.

“Six years ago, the first ever crew boat for women’s rowing made it to an Olympic final and that was an incredible moment and now, six years on, we’re in an incredible position where we can field a crew of eight against nations twice, three times our size. It’s unbelievable, rowing has really come on in strides, especially since the boys won that medal in Rio.”

Some of the other finals were surprising low-key, the men’s lightweight quadruple sculls, had only two crews, Italy and Germany.

On Sunday, Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan will look to add another medal to their collection in the lightweight double sculls.

Also on Sunday, the women’s single sculls A final also has Aoife Casey, the PR2 mixed double sculls final features Steven McGovern and Katie O’Brien, and finally the women’s lightweight double sculls A final includes Lydia Heaphy and Margaret Cremen.

Irish crew final times (all times Irish)

Sunday —

10:36 Women’s single sculls A final (Aoife Casey)

10:52: PR2 Mixed double sculls final (Steven McGovern and Katie O’Brien)

11.26: Men’s lightweight double sculls A final (Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy)

11.43: Women’s lightweight double sculls A final (Lydia Heaphy and Margaret Cremen)

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics