Sanita Puspure hits top gear as she chases podium finish

Irish crews set for big weekend at World Championships in Bulgaria

Ireland’s Sanita Puspure celebrates finishing first in her semi-final at the World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Photograph: Detlev Seyb/Inpho

Ireland’s Sanita Puspure celebrates finishing first in her semi-final at the World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Photograph: Detlev Seyb/Inpho

 

Sixty-three national flags line the sparkling finishing stretch at the rowing course here at Plovdiv in Bulgaria. Countries from Benin to Belgium hove up at the World Championships hoping to turn the sweat of a season into gold, silver and bronze. Ireland’s flag is near the centre, and it has been carried proudly so far.

On Friday, it was Sanita Puspure’s turn to shine again. Latvian friends cheered her along with the Irish crowd but after a decade in the green the Cork-based sculler has established herself as a flag bearer in the Ireland team. On Sunday (10.19 Irish time) she will have the best shot she ever had at a podium finish at a World Championships.

Her semi-final win was astounding in its simplicity and control. Fie-Udby Erichsen, the silver medallist from London 2012, led coming up to the 1,000 metre mark, but she was left behind as Puspure hit top gear. There were 7.72 seconds between them at the finish.

It looked smooth, and Puspure said it felt good. “Going to the start, I was like: ‘I’m going to take this. I don’t care how much it is going to hurt’. Then I had a good start and I relaxed into a nice rhythm. I kind of knew then: ‘I can win this’.”

A dramatic boat-stopping crab (missed stroke) pushed one of the contenders, Carling Zeeman, into fourth and the B Final. “My heart goes out to the Canadian,” Puspure said.

Asked why she has improved so much this season, the Ireland sculler talked of the hard programme she has taken on – and that she is consuming more food. “Eat more and you’ll have more energy to train.”

If anything she looks trimmer than she ever has. Asked if it is a strict diet. “Oh no, it can’t be all lean chicken. There are donuts!”

Puspure’s clash with defending champion Jeannine Gmelin is highly-anticipated. The Swiss won the second semi-final from Kara Kohler of the United States and Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig, both also medal contenders. The winning time was almost identical to Puspure’s.

The young Ireland lightweight quadruple got their medal shot on Friday and made a fair stab at it, finishing fifth. Germany and Italy battled at the front of the field and took gold and silver in that order. Turkey took the bronze, while Denmark slotted in just ahead of the Irish.

Andrew Goff from Waterford and Enniskillen’s Ryan Ballantine came into the regatta having taken a silver medal at the World Under-23 Championships, while Skibbereen twins Fintan and Jake McCarthy reached the A Final in that competition. “This was kind of an extra leg of the season,” Goff said. “We made the A Final – fifth in the World. We’re all only 21. We’re pretty happy.”

The Ireland double of Philip Doyle (25) and Ronan Byrne (20) had been impressive in their march to the semi-finals. Placing in the top three would lift this new crew into the A Final. They started well and led, but the task of pulling out top form on two consecutive days was beyond them. Britain’s Angus Groom and Jack Beaumont won from New Zealand and Romania. Ireland placed fifth to earn a place in Sunday’s B Final.

Doyle said they were “proud” and determined now to improve. “We decided to have a crack and we had a crack,” the Queen’s University medical student said. “Our [lack of] experience let us down a little in the last 500. We tried to come back but the boys were on a different level to us. Physically we struggled to do what we wanted to do mentally. The mind was saying ‘you need to go’ and the legs were saying ‘no more please’.”

Saturday could be a bumper day for Ireland, with two chances of medals. The women’s pair of Aifric Keogh and Emily Hegarty, who have been one of the stories of this regatta, have a centre lane in their A Final at 9.30m Irish time.

At 10.16 it is the turn of the O’Donovan brothers. The Ireland lightweight double may benefit from good karma. Paul O’Donovan lent his distinctive yellow single scull to American Andrew Campbell, who was left without one in a mix-up in the US team. The US lightweight took bronze yesterday.

The O’Donovans would hope to do as well. In truth, they hope to do better.

This weekend the Ireland flag may be busy above the medal podium.

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