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Double gold for Ireland at World Rowing Championships

Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll were followed home by Paul O’Donovan

Ireland’s Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll celebrate winning gold at the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida. Photo: Detlev Seyb/Inpho

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.

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 were 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 850 metres 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 told The Irish Times that “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 which he and the Mark and Shane had worn after a bit of craic in Spain might have helped, he agreed, laughing.

On the high rates of Mark and Shane, he said: “Some people make too much of technique. Speed is what tells.”

Meanhwile, 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 fo the women’s single sculls.

The 35-year-old pushed at halfway to move into the all important top three and then again after 1500 metres 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 (2pm 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.

On Friday evening, the men’s pair of Patrick Boomer and Fionnán McQuillan-Tolan took fourth in their C Final, placing 16th overall. It was their very first regatta together.

Ireland heavyweight coach, Sean Casey, accepts that it was a big step up for these crews to this level, but, he said: “they have to start somewhere”.

He said they would not have been sent if the personnel had not been seen as real prospects in the programme targeted at success in Tokyo 2020.