Thursday 29 September 2016

Take two: Irish crews knuckle down again with 'A' finals on line

Sean McGoldrick

Published 11/08/2016 | 02:30

Gary O’Donovan, 23, and his sibling Paul (right), 22, were introduced to the sport in their native Skibbereen by their father Teddy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Gary O’Donovan, 23, and his sibling Paul (right), 22, were introduced to the sport in their native Skibbereen by their father Teddy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

After another frustrating 24-hour delay, the two Irish crews competing in the semi-finals of the Olympic Regatta on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas will be hoping the winds abate and the programme goes ahead as scheduled today.

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After another frustrating 24-hour delay, the two Irish crews competing in the semi-finals of the Olympic Regatta on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas will be hoping the winds abate and the programme goes ahead as scheduled today.

The venue is one of the most spectacular being used for the Games, but only a canal separates the course from the Atlantic Ocean which makes it particularly prone to the vagaries of the Rio winter.

Not that the conditions would unduly bother the two Irish crews, particularly Skibbereen brothers Paul and Gary O'Donovan who remain on course to become the first Irish male crew to challenge for an Olympic medal since the Atlanta Games in 1996, when a lightweight four crew fell agonisingly short.

Sam Lynch rowed on that boat which finished fourth in the final on Lake Lanier. His wife Sinead Jennings - who is just 50 days shy of her 40th birthday - together with Dublin engineer Claire Lambe, will be aiming to become the first Irish female crew to reach an Olympic final today.

The sport has yet to produce an Olympic medal for Ireland but Irish rowers have had no such inhibitions at World Championship level, winning five gold, nine silver and eight bronze medals. Jennings, indeed, won a world title in the lightweight single sculls in 2000 but it is not an Olympic event.

Gary O'Donovan, 23, and his sibling Paul, 22, were introduced to the sport in their native Skibbereen by their father Teddy, a long-time member of the local rowing club. The pair have always shown promise on the water and were selected for the Irish Junior team at the Home International regatta in 2008.

But this specific boat has made remarkable progress in a short time. The pair only took up the lightweight double sculls in 2014, but an 11th place finish at last year's World Championships secured them Olympic qualification.

Last May they announced themselves as Olympic contenders when they were crowned European champions. Irish crews, however, have an alarming habit of underperforming at Olympic level.

But the way the pair chased down the Italians in the closing 500m of their heat on Monday suggests that the pair are capable of securing a place in tomorrow's final.

Pacing is important in the 2,000m race, as Gary explains. "It's a long race, about six minutes, so you can't go flat out the whole way. The second half of the race is when we come into our own."

In their heat the Irish crew were travelling faster than any of the other five boats in the final kilometre of the race.

The brothers's deadpan sense of humour is evident in their interviews. Asked whether they had raced in worse conditions than those that caused the racing to be cancelled on Sunday, Paul replied: "Don [McLachlan, their coach] was putting us out in everything all year. He put us out in reckless conditions altogether. We were fearing for our lives some days. He was like, come on."

They are drawn in lane four of today's first semi-final (1.10pm) alongside Germany, USA, France, Great Britain and China.

By the time the O'Donovans hit the water, the fate of Jennings and Lambe will be sealed. Competing in the second semi-final (12.50) they have avoided world champions Poland but face Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada and USA.

The Irish girls are drawn in lane five and like the O'Donovans have to finish in the top three to secure a coveted place in the A final.

Irish Independent

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