What a morning it’s been for Rowing Ireland in Racice, Czech Republic. Once again, the Irish are European Champions, this time in the lightweight men’s pair, Shane O’ Driscoll and Mark O’ Donovan. Each of the remaining Irish crews then followed up with medals of their own – Silver for Denise Walsh in the lightweight women’s single, and Silver for Gary and Paul O’ Donovan in the lightweight men’s double sculls. This puts Ireland an incredible SIXTH on the medal table overall.
O’ Driscoll and O’ Donovan were the first Irish crew to take to the water this morning, in the A Final of the lightweight men’s pair, where they took the Gold with over two seconds to spare ahead of the Russian and Italian crews who claimed Silver and Bronze within a minuscule 0.15 of each other. Speaking after the race, the Skibbereen rowers said they knew they needed to “up the aggression coming off the start”, and set themselves up well for the race ahead. They expected a strong sprint from Russia in particular in the final 500 metres, as they experienced in World Cup I in Belgrade earlier this month, but this was no match for the Irish who surged to the line. They remained relaxed and in control for the duration of the contest, and their dominant performance has earned them the title of 2017 European Champions.
Next up was Skibbereen clubmate and Rowing Ireland teammate Denise Walsh, who had produced impressive results throughout the Championships in the lead up to today’s A Final, winning her heat on Friday and placing second in yesterday’s semi-final in the lightweight women’s single sculls. Walsh remained consistent and produced yet another stellar performance to take the European Silver medal, just 1.76 seconds behind Sweden’s Emma Fredh. The Irish sculler held back until she felt the time was right to make her deadly sprint to the finish, coming from 5th, then 4th, picking off the field one by one and eventually overtaking Switzerland’s Patricia Merz who had taken an early lead and held it right up to the final quarter. However, she hadn’t enough left in the tank to ward off Walsh, who pulled off an incredible dash to the finish line that showed not just her ability, but strength of mind and belief in herself. She now adds to her medal tally of another Silver so far in 2017, obtained at World Cup I in Belgrade.
Possibly the most anticipated event of the day was the lightweight men’s double sculls, where Ireland’s Gary and Paul O’ Donovan had the chance to defend their 2016 title. It wasn’t to be this year, as the French were crowned eventual Champions, but the Irish double claimed a tremendous second place and a Silver medal, the first medal of 2017 for the well-known crew. It was a photo finish for second, third and fourth, as Ireland, Italy and Poland all finished within a second of each other, however the O’ Donovan’s trademark final sprint earned them the Silver. Gary O’ Donovan said after the race that watching fellow teammates Denise, Mark and Shane perform so well and medalling in their events is what lifted spirits in the Irish camp and spurred himself and Paul on enough to ensure they claimed a medal of their own.
Rowing Ireland CEO, Hamish Adams, said “This weekend has seen an incredible set of results from our European Team. I wish to personally congratulate all the Team on behalf of all our membership, you have made all of us very proud.”
It was disappointment for Old Collegian’s and Ireland’s Sanita Puspure in Racice, as she was struck down with illness before the competition even began and did not feature alongside her teammates. Although she will be frustrated at being restricted to watching from the sidelines, she will be working to be fit and ready for the next test, World Cup II in Poznan, Poland next month, and will no doubt be hungry to race and share in the glory that Rowing Ireland are currently enjoying in abundance.
Thanks to RTE for their fantastic coverage of the Championships, both Saturday and Sunday morning, and well done to Sinead Lynch and Neville Maxwell in the studio who spoke so highly of all our athletes, as well as Sam Lynch on commentary. The Team are flying into Dublin Airport this evening on flight EI645 from Prague, and are due into Terminal 2 at 17.20. Call in if you can and give our Champions the welcome home they deserve!
See the weekend’s full results on the World Rowing website, as well as race footage, here.