- Hockey: The Ireland women's team enjoy a perfect Olympics debut in win over South Africa
- Rowing: O'Donovan and McCarthy win their heat; women's four make final; Doyle and Byrne set for semi-finals; Casey and Cremen and Crowley and Dukarska face repechage
- Gymnastics: McClenaghan sets the standard on pommel horse with 15.266
- Boxing: Walker beats Brotons in featherweight division
- Taekwondo: Woolley left disappointed after loss to Guzman
- Cycling: Martin best of the Irish in Olympic road race, finishing 16th
- Swimming: Walshe wins her 100m butterfly heat but misses out on semi-final
The Ireland women's team showed few signs of debut nerves as they got off to a perfect start in the Olympic hockey tournament with a 2-0 win over South Africa at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo.
A goal in each half from Róisín Upton and Sarah Torrans was enough for Sean Dancer's side, although they failed to add a few more after winning a total of nine penalty corners.
Deirdre Duke summed up the feelings in the camp after the win, saying: "We just wanted to play with as much freedom as we can. We've worked so hard to get here and now we're here, we're just trying to enjoy it. We're trying to play attacking hockey and I think we won a lot of corners today but didn't quite get the conversion but it's a good start."
In their latest display of unrivalled spirit and class on the water, Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy cruised to victory in their heat of the men's lightweight double sculls at the Sea Forest Waterway on Saturday morning, reminding all those present the Irish boat is unquestionably the one to beat in Tokyo.
With only the top two sure of advancing to Tuesday’s semi-final there wasn’t much room for error, as some of the other Irish boats would discover, only the Cork duo made sure and then some, almost five seconds clear of runners-up Czech Republic who came through to beat Poland into third.
For the reigning World and European champions, it was business as usual in every sense.
“It is, it is just a normal regatta, it’s no different to any other,” said O’Donovan with his undaunted trademark.
“I suppose it went reasonably well, yeah, we won the race and it’s hard to do much better than win the race. And you don’t want to win it by 20 seconds either because it’s very hot out there. I’m not saying we could have won it by 20 seconds. It was still tough, like. All the races at this regatta will be tough but it is difficult to complain with that result as well.”
McCarthy, rowing in his first Olympics, agreed: “Just more so getting a race down the course. Once we’re out of the village and down here it just feels like a normal regatta really. It was nice to get the first one done. We row and train in all different conditions anyway so we are well used to whatever wind gets thrown at us. Just being adaptable and doing what we do in training.”
In a similar display of coolness in the face of the searing heat, the Irish women's four of Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty booked their place straight into Wednesday's final, after a superbly timed effort that saw them finish just 0.2 of a second behind favourites Australia.
“It was exciting, great to get going,” said Keogh. “We had been waiting since yesterday when the rest of the crew started and then this morning as well, kind of sitting there waiting to go in, so it was a relief to go out there and give a good performance.
“We hadn’t raced that crew specifically before. The last time we would have come up against an Australian crew was 2019. So it’s been a long time since we raced them.
“I think our time was pretty similar [to what we had been doing]. I think the Australians got an Olympic best today. We were obviously just point two behind them. In these conditions it’s hard to read into times. We were the faster heat of the two but we saw yesterday with the other races, the times were changing quite rapidly in the conditions so it’s not something we’d rely on. We wanted to test every element of our race. It wasn’t a case of bringing it down coming into the last bit, we wanted to practice our final sprint and all that so yeah we did go for it.”
There were mixed results for the other three Irish crews on the water: in the women's lightweight doubles, Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen ended up fifth in their heat, 14.20 seconds off the leading French crew. Again only the top two here went directly to the semi-finals, which means the Irish pair will be back in action in Sunday's repechage.
Likewise with Aileen Crowley and Monika Dukarska, who missed out on automatic qualification to the women's pair semi-finals. The New Zealand crew took top spot ahead of Denmark, before Spain surged late on to pip the Irish crew.
“For us it was more about focusing on our strategy and executing that to the best of our ability. Again, the start didn’t go as well as we hoped for but the rest of the race we were quite pleased with,” said Dukarska, confident the pair can produce a more complete performance on Sunday.
Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne know they will too. After Friday's poor showing in the heats, they managed to claim third in their repechage and with that book a place in the men's doubles semi-final, only they still appear to be struggling to find their rhythm.
Here, Lithuania surged late to take the win, Doyle and Byrne finishing in third spot behind Germany and Lithuania. “We were struggling a small bit again today, similar to yesterday,” admitted Byrne. “We’re just searching for something to click, we’re not quite sure what it is. We’re searching for that tomorrow which is obviously going to be the hardest of the rounds so far.”
Doyle realised too it’s make-or-break time: “There are any number of reasons why - heat, conditions, salt water and all that but everyone is in the same boat, well not the same boat but the same conditions. We’re fairly confident that if we can find that click tomorrow the boat will take off and hopefully we’ll be able to do what we know we’re capable of because at the moment we definitely feel we’re underperforming and not living up to where we want to be and what we expect from ourselves and expect from everyone else in the team. Because obviously Sanita and the lightweight team set such a precedent and we’re trying to live up to that and show we’re at that level as well which we know we can be if we can get the magic back in the boat.”
Also coming through the Tokyo morning with impressive class and ease at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre was Rhys McClenaghan, who underlined his status as one of the gold medal favourites with an excellent score of 15.266 in his qualifying group.
This left the 22 year-old well clear of his next best rival in that qualifying group, the Russian-born New Zealand gymnast Mikhail Koudinov taking second in that group with a score of 12.466. Interestingly, in 2018 McClenaghan won European gold with a score of 15.300, and in 2019 he won World bronze with 15.400.
“To say now that I’m officially an Olympian is a dream come true,” he said. “We were prepared as we could be, and I think there’s a lot more there for finals, so we’ll just keep relying the preparation so far. I’ve set the standard for the day anyway.”
Elsewhere, boxing began its Olympic schedule with good news from Tokyo's Kokugikan Arena, where Kurt Walker came through his preliminary round of 32 in the men's featherweight competition.
Walker won on a unanimous decision against Spain’s Jose Quiles Brotons, all five judges siding with the Lisburn boxer and 2017 European champion.
Crisp and athletic from the beginning, Walker fought from a distance and even though the Spaniard, nicknamed ‘Crazy Horse’, came out more aggressively by eating up Walker’s lead in the second round, the 26-year-old Irishman held his composure and steadied himself nicely to win the third round.
“I thought I dominated the first and third,” said Walker afterwards. “The second he gave it his all but he had nothing left in the third. But he is very good and I had to dig deep it was a great first fight for me.
“Whenever he had a good second round the corners were telling me he has given his all, go out and go back to your boxing. I got a bit nervous. It was a wee bit different. I knew what I had from experience.”
But the last 12 months following the postponement of the 2020 Games until this summer has helped with the cultivation of Walker’s boxing overall. He believes he is better equipped to go further in the competition.
“I have started to mature a bit,” said Walker. “It helps what I am fighting for and I know she (my baby daughter Layla) is going to be proud of me when she is older.”
A clash of heads late in the third round and a cut appearing above Walker’s right eye came too late in the bout to cause any great anxiety as he moves forward to meet the top seed in the division on July 28th.
As has been the case with several of the Irish fighters the draw has not been kind and Walker faces another challenge against Uzbeki Mirzakhalilov Mirazizbek, a professional boxer with one win in the paid ranks and the amateur World Champion in 2019.
“He has two arms and two legs like myself, it doesn’t bother me,” said Walker. “If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. I have won a fight in the Olympics more than I thought I would do a year ago so I’m happy and I will keep going.”
In Taekwondo Dublin's Jack Woolley became one of the early Irish casualties in Tokyo when he lost a close match to Argentinean 11th seed Lucas Guzman 22-19 in the 57kg division.
Guzman earned the winning score in the last three seconds of the bout adding to Woolley’s dismay in a contest he would have been expected to win.
“We’ll see. It’s sport, isn’t it? No-one expected me to lose that, nobody anticipated my performance to be as poor as it was,” said Woolley afterwards.
The Tallaght 22-year-old, who was seeded at six in the competition, still had an avenue to move forward in the repechage, where the best outcome would have been a bronze medal.
However as the day went on that avenue forward was closed as Guzman also lost and did not make it to the final of the competition.
In Taekwondo an athlete who loses to a finalist in the competition enters into the repechage. If Guzman had made it to the final, then Woolley would have gone into the repechage for a second bite at competing for at best a bronze medal placing.
But a stunned Woolley left the arena disconsolate with the surprising reversal in his and Ireland’s first ever outing in an Olympic Games only to later learn the chance of a repechage had also vanished.
“Especially coming from a small country, some people just qualifying for an Olympics is good enough,” said Woolley.
“Not for me. To be honest, I felt that I was one of the favourites, a lot of people would have said I was one of the favourites to get a medal and just to perform the way I did, you never know with sport.”
Ecuador's Richard Carapaz produced a powerful late burst after six-hour slog to win gold in a thrilling Olympic men's road race as favourite Tadej Pogacar was beaten into third place at the Fuji International Speedway on Saturday.
Dan Martin was best of the Irish trio in the event, placing 16th while Nicolas Roche and Eddie Dunbar came home in 75th and 76th respectively. He was part of a chase group which crossed the finish line at the Fuji International Speedway motor racing circuit 3 minutes 38 seconds behind Carapaz, and 2 minutes 31 adrift of the Van Aert-led octet.
Ellen Walshe came within 0.03 of breaking her own Irish record in heat two of the women's 100m butterfly but her time of 59.35 was not enough to book a semi-final spot as she finished outside the best 16 from the five heats.
She now looks ahead to her strongest event – the women’s 200m individual medley – where she will go in the heats at 11.56am on Monday.
The other Irish swimmer in the pool on Saturday was Darragh Greene but his hopes of reaching a 100m breaststroke semi-final were ended in his heat when he swam a time of 1:00.30.