Ireland’s World Championship heroes to be honoured

The hugely successful team will be honoured at a special event at the National Rowing Centre

Ireland’s Sanita Puspure celebrates her gold medal at the World Rowing Championships. Photo: Darko Vojinovic/Reuters

Ireland’s Sanita Puspure celebrates her gold medal at the World Rowing Championships. Photo: Darko Vojinovic/Reuters

 

Almost two weeks on it is still extraordinary to think how well the Ireland rowing team performed at the World Championships. Two gold medals; two new crews in Olympic qualification positions, a non-Olympic crew placed in an A Final.

The achievement will be honoured at a special event at the National Rowing Centre this Saturday evening following the Irish Open and All Ireland Youth Regatta.

It is proper that success be celebrated. We are not always good at it. Indeed, there has been harping from those outside the sport that there is something dodgy going on, particularly in relation to Sanita Puspure, wnning her first World Championship medal at 36.

Let’s tease this out. The whole Ireland team were the talk of the regatta. Take the new women’s pair of Aifric Keogh (26) and Emily Hegarty (20). They reached their final in this elite Olympic event, bumping out super powers America and Britain. The new men’s double of 25-year-old Philip Doyle, a doctor who only took up the sport five years ago, and Ronan Byrne (20) took ninth in their Olympic discipline.

Puspure’s step up was no more exceptional than theirs. She is a gifted athlete who has finally harnessed her exceptional physiological potential – and got her head right. She has been amongst the best in the world on the ergometer (rowing machine) for the past decade, with a best of 6 minutes 36 seconds; she reached the Olympic Games in 2012 (Ireland’s only rower there) and 2016. In awful conditions in Rio de Janeiro she missed out by a sliver on progressing to the medal stages. She medalled at European and/or World Cup level in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Irish rowing came out of the Rio Olympics on a high. The lightweight double of Gary and Paul O’Donovan blew away any lingering inferiority complex. Since then, under the new, more intense, training regime brought in by high performance director Antonio Maurogiovanni an extraordinary commitment by heavyweights yielded a boost in performances.

It is not an exceptional picture: before Ireland came New Zealand Rowing, which had a similar step change in the last six years or so.

There are similar profiles across a range of sports: the Ireland rugby team, the Dublin footballers, the British rowing team. Committed athletes move up.

Citing times in rowing is a canard. When Annalise Murphy took her medal in Rio did anyone check her time against other performances? Of course not. Rowing, like sailing, is done in very variable conditions. Competitors like to set world best times. Unlike, say, swimming, there are no World Records in rowing.

What was obvious about Puspure this year was that she was, finally, comfortable to be front and centre of a team representing her adopted homeland. She has been upset by online musing about her and especially about her supposedly advanced age. “I’m young enough to have a child. Am I too old for top-class sport?” Let’s hope the whispering voices in the dark alleys of social media have not slid under the door of her self-belief.

The World Masters Regatta this weekend will be held in Sarasota-Bradenton in Florida. And yet there will be Irish representation: Athlone and Galway are entered, as are Cappoquin’s Milo Murray and Patrick Murray and Carlow’s Anthony Dooley (a fomer president of the governing body here).

The All Ireland Youth Regatta and the Irish Open have both been fitted into one day. Ireland triallists compete only in singles or pairs. The mix of young aspirants and those who have reached the heights was one of the big positives of the Open in the past few years. World gold medallists Paul and Gary O’Donovan and Sanita Puspure, who are set to have a Late Late date tonight, will be on hand at the end of the day.

Hours of pain and effort will be expended in the season ahead. But it is the time to give success its due.

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