After 63 days, six hours and 25 minutes at sea, solo rower Damian Browne has completed the Atlantic Challenge rowing race. The Galway man rowed across the finish line in English Harbour in strong winds and on a choppy sea - familiar conditions for the man who battled through storms on the 4,800km journey from the Canary Islands.
Browne had capsized and suffered bloody facial injuries early in the race. Five of the crews did not continue, but the former professional rugby player persisted and was the 21st and final crew to reach land. His Facebook posts, wry and honest, had won him an army of fans.
He roared with relief as he reached the dock and was hugged by green-clad Irish supporters.
“What a challenge. What a journey. What a nine weeks! I lived every second of it and I still can’t believe I did it,” he said. “It was a fight. There was only one winner, but I survived.”
He thanked those who had supported him.
The retirement of Claire Lambe, at 27, is a loss to rowing. The popular Dubliner had graced front pages with her exploits in Rio in 2016, when she teamed up with Sinéad Lynch in a lightweight double which was the first Ireland women's crew to reach an Olympic final. After a year at Cambridge, and a win in the women's Boat Race, she had taken up a job in Cork and was expected to resume international duty.
It would have been simple: a return to the National Rowing Centre and the sacrifice and the intensity she was used to. But when it came to decision time, it wasn't for her. "My heart wanted to move on," she told The Irish Times.
Cherry on top for Lambe
To commit to another Olympic cycle, she knew rowing “would have to be the number one priority”, and she was not there. Her job with Arup is a commitment and she hopes to take on new sporting challenges.
Lambe has been a leading light in Irish women’s rowing for almost a decade, putting in the hard work even as she shone academically at UCD and beyond (she is an engineer, with a Masters degree from Cambridge). The big honours, which included a silver at the World University Championships in 2012, came slowly. There was a low point when the lightweight double aimed at London 2012 fell apart.
The very top of the mountain came into focus when coach Don McLachlan brought Sinéad Lynch back from retirement and matched her with Lambe. The two were a decade and a half apart in age, but had the meld of power and finesse which saw them reach the Olympic final in 2016.
Lambe picks out the Rio experience as the pinnacle of her career, but the year after, when she studied and rowed in Cambridge was “the cherry on top” The year she spent rowing in Australia (2013) will also stay with her.
She continues to train every day - cycling, running, swimming. She was part of an eight and a double which won at the National Championships in 2017 and doesn’t rule out rowing again, even at international level. “Maybe the Olympics after Tokyo?”
The comment raises the question of whether her retirement in her mid twenties comes because of changes in the high performance programme. Lambe shoots this down. “That didn’t play a part,” she says.
The top juniors in the country will trial this weekend at the National Rowing Centre. Eighteen scullers and eight pairs will be invited to form crew boats for Sunday. The next trial will be by invitation only.
Irish rowers have been giving a good account of themselves at the New Zealand Championships on Lake Karapiro. All four elite rowers - Paul O'Donovan, Gary O'Donovan, Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan - have reached finals in the Premier (open weight) grade. Paul O'Donovan is in with a shout of a medal come the final of the Premier Single Sculls on Saturday. Max Murphy of UCD has competed for Waikato at senior level, reaching finals in the four, pair and eight.
Sam McKeown, the fastest Irish heavyweight at the recent Indoor Championships, finished 10th in the open single sculls at the British on-the-water trial at the weekend. He holds dual citizenship. The Queen’s University man looks set to compete at the World University Championships in August. Ireland high performance director Antonio Maurogiovanni and heavyweight coach Dave McGowan will have him in their sights.
On the domestic front, the Tribesmen Head of the River has been rescheduled for March 24th.