Sanita Puspure perseveres through troubled waters

World champion has borne bereavements and her sister’s cancer en route to gold

Sanita Puspure celebrates winning the gold medal in Plovdiv. Photograph: Detlev Seyb/Inpho

Sanita Puspure celebrates winning the gold medal in Plovdiv. Photograph: Detlev Seyb/Inpho

 

Along with the O’Donovan brothers and the Ireland team, Sanita Puspure is set to be given a public welcome this weekend in Cork. But behind the 36-year-old’s golden achievement lies a story of a competitor driven on by the struggle of her only sister with cancer.

The year 2017 had been a tough one for Puspure. She lost two close relatives and missed the European Championships through illness. Late in the year, she took on a hard, new programme.

And then, in October/November came the devastating diagnosis for her elder sister, Inese, of a cancerous tumour.

“At the time when she first got chemotheraphy and I knew how sick she was feeling I couldn’t feel sorry for myself because she was worse off,” Sanita told The Irish Times.

“I was injured at the time as well and I was sitting on a [training] bike. We had miserable pieces to do.”

Her sister continues to be an inspiration. Sanita says she remains positive in spite of her struggle.

“She’s good. She had her tumour removed in June. She was in hospital for a lot of weeks. She is going into hospital on Wednesday to do all the checks again. She’s starting another round of treatment. We’re staying hopeful. She’s a real fighter.”

Feting the Ireland team as a unit has been an aim of Rowing Ireland in recent days, but it has proved a struggle as the team members headed off from Plovdiv in different directions. A celebration in Cork city seems likely.

The two gold medals won by Gary and Paul O’Donovan and Puspure lifted the team to second in the World Championships table when Olympic events only were counted.

Medal-winning Olympic crews

In the 2001 World Championships, Ireland won three gold medals (lightweight scullers Sinead Jennings and Sam Lynch, and the lightweight pair of Gearoid Towey and Tony O’Connor). They were non-Olympic events, but the aim was to build on these and form medal-winning Olympic crews. It did not happen.

In Plovdiv, Ireland had three A Finalists in Olympic events (the women’s pair of Aifric Keogh and Emily Hegarty were the third crew to reach this level). To move this on to Olympic success in two years’ time in Tokyo looks more straightforward. But the team is bigger and will need more funding. The Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, has said he won’t be found wanting in this area, but capital investment is not the pinch point – there will have to be backing for spending for the next two years.

The present setup has got by through by scrimping and saving. The top few get good funding through the Sport Ireland carding scheme; a lot of the rest, adults in their twenties, get by through contributions from their parents.

Ireland competed at only two World Cups and in 2018 and only a small group were entered at the European Championships. Next year’s first World Cup (also at Plovdiv) is also likely to be missed.

In a blow for Ireland, it has become increasingly likely that Tokyo 2020 will be last Olympic Games with lightweight rowing events. Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, was invited to the World Rowing Championships – and watched Gary and Paul O’Donovan win gold in the thrilling final of the lightweight double sculls. In the past, the IOC has made it clear it wishes to remove all lightweight rowers from their programme. In a press event in Plovdiv, Bach gave no indication that this position has changed.

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