O'Donovans aiming for Euro glory after wake-up call
Olympic silver medallists Gary and Paul O'Donovan headline Ireland's rowing team at the European Championships which get started today in the Czech Republic.
The Skibbereen duo, the reigning European champions, had their first international outing of the season three weeks ago in Belgrade, where the new British combination of Pete Chambers and Will Fletcher took top honours.
Fourth place in the Serbian capital will have been a wake-up call for the O'Donovans, who race among a massive entry of 23 lightweight double sculls - the largest field at the regatta.
The strength of the competition this weekend cannot be underestimated. The field includes a first international appearance this year for Pierre Houin and Jeremie Azou, the French crew who beat Ireland to the line in Rio last summer.
Following their gold medal success in Belgrade, Shane O' Driscoll and Mark O' Donovan are looking optimistic for another podium finish this weekend.
The field includes Russia and Great Britain, who took silver and bronze behind Ireland three weeks ago, while the newly promoted U-23 medallists from Italy and Turkey will also be looking to get into the mix.
But there's disappointment for Ireland's top sculling hope in the openweight women's event, Sanita Puspure. The Old Collegian sculler travelled to the venue only to be ruled out of competition with an eye infection.
Her expected recovery time will mean another three-week wait until she can test the competition at the second World Cup regatta of the season in Poland.
Skibbereen's Denise Walsh, who took silver in Belgrade behind Switzerland's Patricia Merz, is also in action in the lightweight women's singles.
All three World Cup medallists are in contention but the newcomers to the field include Clara Guerra, the Italian junior world sculling champion, as well as U-23 world champion Amber Kraak.
More than 500 European rowers race in Racice, an hour's drive north of Prague, which has hosted many major events since first staging the world championships in 1993.