There was a ‘so what’ attitude from Sanita Puspure when she came off the saltwater lake at Tokyo’s Olympic track at Sea Forest Waterway on Friday. ‘So what’ that she was first in her heat and ‘so what’ that she was fifth fastest across all six heats in the first day of Olympic rowing in the women’s single sculls.
“It was okay. It was good to get the first race done and dusted,” were the exact words.
That she was fifth fastest of the field, she could not have known at that point as her second heat was completed in a quicker time than the first heat and the quickest boats were to come later in the day, the fastest from New Zealand's Emma Twigg in the final heat of the morning.
Still, the two rowers walked away from day one content with their work, Twigg fourth in both Rio 2016 and London 2012, coming home in 7:35.22 to Puspure’s 7:46.08.
The Irish rower’s breathe easy mien should not be confused with a lack of drive or ambition but more in the context of the huge body of work she has completed throughout her career, two World Championship and two European gold medals, that allows a particular perspective.
The understanding is that after day one of racing at an Olympic Games, there remains too much a part for evolution to play to draw any dramatic early conclusions.
Never the drama queen, Puspure won her heat by around eight seconds without being pushed at any stage, the second placed Mexican rower Kenia Lechuga coming home 8.13 seconds behind.
It was telling in the Twigg race that second placed Dutch rower Sophie Souwer also came home in a faster time that Puspure, her 7:39.96 around six seconds quicker than the Irish boat. The other speedy times cane from Britain's Victoria Thornley (7:44.30) and Austria's Magdelana Lobnig (7:37.91)
The question for Puspure in her quarter-final race is how much Quigg was pushed by Souwer and whether Puspure, at 39-years-old, still has the spark and stamina to rise another few levels on demand. Again, she knows that is going to be the case.
“Yeah it’s been a long wait,” she said about finally getting under way. “It wasn’t too hard today. But it is going to get harder as it goes along. If I was third it wouldn’t make much difference. Every race I do brings my physiology up a little bit as well.”
Quigg, like Puspure, is desperate for an Olympic medal. As well as her two fourth places in previous Olympic Games, she also came in ninth in Beijing and at 34-years-old has the keen hunger of being so close but never quite on an Olympic podium. Like Puspure, her quality is obvious as a former World Champion in 2014 and World Championship silver medal winner twice in 2013 and 2019.
The wind did play a factor on the first day and a technical meeting was held after with Monday’s Olympic rowing races, including Puspure’s quarter-final, now moved to Sunday because of the forecast.
Chances are there would also have been a ‘so what’ attitude from Puspure about that development. It was multiple World Champion, Skibbereen’s Paul O’Donovan, who pointed out a few weeks ago that on Inniscarra lake in Cork, where Irish rowing is based, they get ‘blown out of it’ all the time.
“You can see the flags,” added Puspure. “It swings around a lot, so for our race I think it was a cross and a head wind. But it changes rapidly. So I think you just have to go with it and adapt as you go.”
When Puspure won her World Championship in 2019, beating Quigg into second place, her time was 7:17.14 illustrating that times in rowing depend on many things, heat and wind and salt or freshwater courses, salt water more buoyant and causing less drag on the boat. Her question now is how much faster she can make the Irish boat go when it comes down to racing people and not the clock.