Young guns impress in Belarus

ROWING: THE NATIONAL Championships last weekend suggested Irish rowing is on an upswing, and the first day of the World Under…

ROWING:THE NATIONAL Championships last weekend suggested Irish rowing is on an upswing, and the first day of the World Under-23 Championships at Brest in Belarus yesterday provided another boost. Three of the four Irish crews swept directly into tomorrow's semi-finals of the giant event.

The lightweight quadruple scull is probably Ireland’s best hope of a medal, and Niall Kenny, Michael Maher, Mark O’Donovan and Justin Ryan made it through as second of three qualifiers in an exciting race.

Ireland led through the early stages of their heat and at halfway, but when Germany moved Ireland could not quite cover the break. France and Greece were still in the mix in the closing stages, but Ireland held off both.

The three qualification places went to Germany, Ireland and Greece, in that order. It was by far the fastest of the three heats.

“The Germans pushed quite hard at a thousand (metres – half way) and what they did in 20 strokes was what they held on to for the rest of the race,” explained Martin McElroy, the Ireland performance director. He said his crews have to “keep learning” about what goes on in these races.

In their heat, the lightweight men’s pair of Peter Hanily and Anthony English had a sweet victory over Hong Kong, the crew which effectively pushed them into the C final at the final World Cup in Lucerne. Yesterday’s race was tight in the early stages between these crews and Moldova, but Hanily and English were convincing victors at the finish, with Hong Kong taking second, the other direct qualification place.

The lightweight double scull of Claire Lambe and Sarah Dolan also qualified comfortably. With three semi-final places on offer, they finished second behind Canada – the runaway leaders from the start.

Spain finished third.

While McElroy said the results overall were “a definite step on”, he said his advice to the crews which have qualified for the semi-finals was: “You’re still competitive with a third of the race gone: it’s a three-race event, if you want to put it like that”.

The one Ireland crew which faces into a repechage today is women’s single sculler Lisa Dilleen. Her heat yesterday was a good illustration of how competitive this event of nearly 900 competitors is. The Galway woman, who turned 19 three weeks’ ago and has taken much of the season off to do her Leaving Certificate, came up against a “veteran” of underage rowing, Kaisa Pajusalu.

The Estonian is 21, but took silver at this event last year. She competed in her first World Junior Championships in 2004 (she was 15) and won gold at that level in 2006. She represented Estonia at the senior World Championships in 2007, and was the World Indoor Rowing champion in 2009.

The surprise in yesterday’s race was that Pajusalu only qualified in second spot – she was caught and passed near the end by Tale Gjoertz of Norway, also well travelled in rowing terms, at just 20.

Dilleen finished fifth and will compete in a repechage this morning if the schedule is not altered because of storms in Belarus last evening.

There were no storms at the National Rowing Championships last weekend, and even the heavy showers waited until competition was over. The on-the-water and office teams did a good job and the stand and division between boating area and general parking were big successes.

The new commentary system was less so, although the terrific finish to the senior eights needed no vocal lauding. But isn’t photo finish equipment great? Perhaps the GAA might try their own version – on goal lines.

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