Puspure destroys field to set up final showdown
World champion Sanita Puspure led a feast of Irish success yesterday at the World Rowing Championships in Austria, where she won her semi-final to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Another semi-final win by Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne means another slot in Tokyo, and when para sculler Katie O'Brien won bronze in the PR2 single sculls, it was the icing on the cake for Ireland.
Puspure had never gone head-to head with New Zealand's Emma Twigg since the Kiwi's return to sculling after the Rio Olympics, but Wednesday's quarter-final had put the Old Collegian sculler firmly on top after recording the fastest qualifying time.
True to form, Twigg and Puspure went off with Austria's Magdalena Lobnig and Carling Zeeman of Canada, with the four scullers virtually level at 500m.
But Puspure, 37, kicked in hard to take the lead before the halfway mark and went on to win, more than four seconds clear of the field.
The other semi-final saw Kara Kohler of the USA beat Great Britain's Vicky Thornley to the line, in a time five seconds off the pace set by Puspure, to set up a thrilling final tomorrow.
Neville Maxwell, chairman of the high performance committee at Rowing Ireland, is in no doubt about a successful defence of the title which Puspure won in Bulgaria last year.
"I think she is going to come down the course at 36 and win it by six or seven seconds, and if necessary she'll race for the line - she's super fast at the moment" he said.
New Zealand's John Storey and Christopher Harris led the double sculls semi before Byrne and Doyle took over past halfway, and never looked back.
Great Britain forged into third place before the Kiwis faded, and a scramble for places inside the last 250m saw Romania come through the field.
By then Byrne and Doyle had established a clear lead to stay out of trouble, crossing the line to qualify ahead of GB and Romania.
Newcomer Katie O'Brien's bronze medal in the straight final of the PR2 single sculls was all the more remarkable because she lined up alongside athletes with years of experience on their side.
Today's racing sees Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy race for gold in the lightweight double sculls, while the women's pair and four still have the chance to qualify for the Olympics as long as they place highly enough in their respective B finals.