A record six boats qualified, with 11 rowers, more than one medal hope and confidence soaring, the Irish rowing team for the Tokyo Olympics is now complete. If so far exceeding any expectations, it also seems poised to deliver.
Two more Irish women’s crews secured their Tokyo berths at Sunday’s final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, rounding off another highly successful morning for Irish rowing, just 67 days off from the opening of Games.
Carrying their own high expectations perhaps, the young women’s four line-up of Fiona Murtagh, Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh and Emily Hegarty delivered another superb performance to take the clear win, knowing only the top two boats would secure the last two available places for Tokyo.
About an hour later, the lightweight women’s double of Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen also realised their Tokyo dream: here, the top three places gained the last Olympic spots, the Irish pair coming from behind to take third behind the United States and Switzerland, overtaking China in the last 600m
Together, they now bring the number of Irish boats qualified for Tokyo to six, which already included World and European champions Sanita Puspure, plus Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy
It was the calm before the storm with flat water and cloudy skies over Lake Rotsee: these finals were originally set for Monday, the unkind forecast meaning the World Rowing Executive agreed to bring them forward to Sunday.
For Ireland’s women’s four, who comfortably won their qualifying heat, the final performance was equally dominating, taking the win ahead of China, who secured the second Tokyo spot, beating off the fast Italian line-up, as well as top crews from Germany and Ukraine.
It comes four weeks after winning the European Championship silver in Varese, where the quartet recovered from a slow start in their final to edge out Britain for the silver medal behind the gold-winning Dutch boat. That was a further upgrade on the 2020 bronze medal won at last year’s European Championships in Poznan, Poland.
It marked a special achievement for Lamb, who rows with the Old Collegians Boat Club in Cork, as she follows her sister Claire Lamb, who rowed with Sinead Jennings at the 2016 Olympics in Rio; by neat coincidence, Jennings’ sister Caitriona Jennings had also competed in the 2012 London Olympic marathon.
Lambe said afterwards: “We’re absolutely relieved, it’s been a long time coming. Although on paper we were probably one of the favourites, anything can happen on the water.”
Casey and Cremen had kept their dream alive after finishing second in their A/B semi-final earlier in the morning, setting up their final shot which they duly took. Afterwards, Casey said: “It’s so surreal because I feel like we’ve worked so hard the past two to three years. We came in as underdogs. It just shows what you can do. We came from behind and all we wanted to do was do our best and we are so happy.”
Tokyo wasn’t to be however for Daire Lynch, who again needed to make the top two in his final; the Clonmel rower finished fourth in his A/B single scull semi-final to miss out. With just two Olympic spots available in every boat class (except for the lightweight women’s double sculls, with three spots) the racing was fierce, record numbers registered for this final chance.
The four Irish boats that had already qualified for Tokyo, from the 2019 World Championships, were the Women’s Single (qualified by Sanita Puspure), the Women’s Pair (qualified by Aileen Crowley and Monika Dukarska), the Men’s Lightweight Double (qualified by Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy), and the Men’s Double (qualified by Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne).
Rowing Ireland’s High-Performance Director, Antonio Maurogiovanni, praised the effort of all three boats. “We are very proud of all of the performances from our athletes this weekend, and all seven athletes gave a brave and spirited effort in each of their races over the two days,” he said.
“Having these six crews qualified at the next Tokyo Olympic Games has put Ireland in a very challenging and exciting position not just for Tokyo but also for Paris 2024. As we all know, this is also year one of the 2024 cycle and the current Rowing Ireland squad, if well supported, has everything to keep the fantastic momentum going.
“Behind these results, there is a huge amount of systematic work of athletes, coaches, and administrators that need to be reinforced and more supported to consolidate the current level.”
Several of the crews are set to compete next weekend, back in Lucerne, and the World Cup regatta.