Sinead Lynch: ‘I feel myself that we would have grabbed a medal’
Lynch and Claire Lambe finished sixth in their sculls event but were thrilled to make the final
Claire Lambe and Sinead Lynch in Rio on August 11th after qualifying for the women’s lightweight double sculls final. Photograph: ©Inpho/Morgan Treacy
After missing the opening ceremony because it clashed with the racing schedule, they wanted to get “the whole Olympic experience”. But bigger priorities were calling Lynch home. Daughters Clodagh (5), Molly (3) and Hannah (2) had watched their mother on a television screen at the St Michael’s rowing club in Limerick for long enough and were pining for her return.
“When the race was over,” she says, “they were telling me they were missing me an awful lot. While we were out there, Clodagh asked her Granny, ‘I know Mummy had to go to the Olympics and I know it’s her dream to go, but did she really have to leave the three little girls at home?’ So her Granny told her that the President asked me to go.
“She was happy enough with that, but was hoping he wouldn’t ask me again.”
So that’s where Lynch and Lambe are at right now. Aspects of their lives, temporarily shelved in anticipation of the Rio Games, are now back in focus.
For Lambe, it’s looking towards a masters in engineering in Cambridge at the end of the month to refresh her skills. Meanwhile, Lynch and her family have relocated back to their base in Limerick in time for the new school year.
“I think in the Olympic year you have to put everything on hold,” Lynch says. “The same with the qualifying year, because it’s getting so difficult to qualify. But next year and after I’m hoping to go back and finish my GP training and have more time with my family.
“Being older, I don’t need to do as much endurance work,” she adds. “. So I’ll probably get away with one session a day. Hopefully before Tokyo, I can get serious about it again.”
The Lynch-Lambe pair are entering ordinary time on the rowing calendar. The mandatory training has been put on ice and their fitness regimes are entirely their own. Still, the early stages of that transition have presented some stumbling blocks.
“This is probably the longest break without structured training in four years,” says Lambe. “I kind of don’t feel like an athlete anymore. Every Monday I keep telling myself I’m going to get back on the wagon, but if I feel like going for a run, I’ll go for one. But if I don’t, I won’t.”
Lynch made use of her newfound freedom by competing in and winning a mini-marathon in her native Donegal. That was within two weeks of the lightweight double sculls final, not to mention the morning after a homecoming event in Letterkenny’s Voodoo Nightclub. Her sister, and former Olympian Catriona, chose to run the full marathon instead, which was fine with Sinead.
“My sister had ran a 10-mile race the day before the marathon and she decided to run the full, and that was good,” she says. “It was bad enough doing it hungover without having to race against your sister as well.
“I did it for fun and the Letterkenny Athletic club are my roots. I started there when I was very young. I go up and watch it every year, but I can’t normally run it in case I get injured or compromise the training. So this time I thought why not?”
Catriona represented Ireland four years ago at the London Olympics, where a foot injury impaired her performance during the marathon and resulted in a last-place finish. It is well documented that sister Sinead had designs on those Games as a track cyclist but failed to qualify. Despite her disappointment, she supported Catriona throughout the event and was repaid the favour when her chance came at Rio.
“She was giving me bits of gear and stuff like that to try and make it up to me,” Lynch says. “But I was just delighted that she made it and it was very hard to see her not being able to run as well as she can do, but she was just so far off because of the injury.
“She brought my Mom and Dad out to the World Championships last year and that meant so much to me,” Lynch adds. “They probably wouldn’t have come out if she hadn’t brought them. To have my whole family there was so special.”
Reflecting on the Rio Games, Lambe and Lynch are pleased with their sixth-place finish in the final, but both know it could have been so different.
They finished second in the opening heat but determined that improvements were needed over the first 500m. They applied that for the semi-final and posted a time of 7:18.24 to take third place, in what they agree was their best performance at the Olympics.
Their coach for Rio, Don McLachlan, prepared them for a crosshead wind, which they indeed encountered in the semi-final. Had those weather conditions repeated the following day, Lynch believes Team Ireland’s medal count could well have grown by two.
“Don made sure we got the perfect training venue for our pre-Olympic camp to practice the crosshead,” she says. “My one regret is that we didn’t get those same conditions in the final, because I know that we delivered the best performance we could.
“But it was a tailwind, and we could have been better in the final if we had our crosshead. I feel myself that we would have grabbed a medal.”
Away from the sporting side of the Olympics, allegations of ticket touting concerning some members of the Olympic Council of Ireland and THG Sports emerged. The OCI’s Pat Hickey and Kevin Mallon of THG Sports have been formally charged. Other OCI members, including Dermot Henihan, Kevin Kielty and Stephen Martin, were linked with the case but are now free to return home to Ireland.
Lynch paid tribute to the latter three for the work they did for the Irish athletes during the Olympics.
“They did so much [for us] over the last four years to make sure it was the best Olympics possible for us,” she says. “When people were getting out of the country after Pat Hickey, were arrested, they were the three people who stayed to make sure the athletes were looked after.
“They could have looked after No 1 and headed to the airport and forgotten about the athletes. They had nothing to do with tickets; they were on ground level.”
In the aftermath of the Olympics, rowing quickly became the hot ticket in Ireland. But how long will the acclaim last? As attentions revert to mainstream sports, athletes such as Lynch and Lambe will be ushered back to the shadows.
Becoming Ireland’s first female crew to reach an Olympic A final can only be relevant for so long, for theirs is a once-in-four recognition event, with a short- term slot on the sports agenda.
The women will use their newfound status, however brief, to promote their sport at home. Prior to the Olympic final, they said that creating a legacy for rowing in Ireland was actually more important to them than making that final. And they are true to their word.
Lynch has been invited to be an ambassador for the Limerick Suicide Prevention Watch. She also recently called in to the St Michael’s rowing club along with husband Sam to train with the club’s junior members and encourage their interest in the sport.
“There was a beep test at the rowing club for the juniors to monitor their training, and myself and Sam went up and we took part in it as well,” Lynch says.
“That stuff is really important to me. If I could see myself coaching, it would be at that junior level, and I can see how lives can be changed when people get into a club. It gives them something to focus on so they don’t go off the rails.
“For me, it’s changing things at that level and giving people opportunities so they can progress.”