Sunday 19 November 2017

'Incredible' Olympic debut worth wait for Jennings

Claire Lamb and Sinead Jennings are through to the Olympic Final
Claire Lamb and Sinead Jennings are through to the Olympic Final

Sean McGoldrick in Rio

Rio's iconic Christ Redeemer statue which overlooks the Lagoa Stadium, venue for the Olympic rowing regatta, was shrouded in mist yesterday. Otherwise, though, it was a perfect morning for the two Irish boats in action in the delayed heats of the men's and women's lightweight double sculls.

Thirty-nine-year old Sinead Jennings and her sculls partner Claire Lambe finished second in their heat to comfortably secure a place in tomorrow's semi-finals; the O'Donovan brothers, Paul and Gary did one better chasing down the Italian in the final 500 metres to win their heat.

For Jennings, in particular, finally getting a chance to compete in an Olympic regatta was the culmination of a life-long ambition. A doctor and the mother of three - she is married to Olympic oarsman Sam Lynch - she won a world title as a lightweight sculler 16 years ago.

But the event is not on the Olympic programme; she sought a doubles partner in 2004 but it didn't work out and neither did her attempt to go as a heavyweight sculler in 2008. In 2012 she diverted into track cycling with an eye on the London Games but that didn't work out either. But now on the eve of their 40th birthday her dreams were finally realised.

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"The first day was just incredible. I remember I was looking down at the water and I looked up and saw Christ the Redeemer over the skyscrapers and the mountains, and I thought, 'Wow'."

The women, who are sharing an apartment in the athletes' village with single sculler Sanita Puspure, boxer Katie Taylor and badminton player Chloe Magee, will be back training on the water today ahead of the biggest race of their careers.

The pair looked comfortable in the 2,000m heat which was dominated, as expected, by the South African crew. By the 500m mark the pattern of the race had been established with South Africa opening up a three and half second advantage over the Irish, who were over two seconds clear of the Brazilians.

With just two crews automatically qualifying for the semi-finals it was crucial that Jennings and Lambe maintained this advantage. In fact that gradually increased over the remaining 1500m, though South Africa also maintained their advantage and won in 7.07.37. Ireland were a comfortable second in 7:10.91 - nearly 10 seconds ahead of the Brazilians.

"It was a little bit annoying, because we'd actually weighed in, for no reason at all. It wasn't too big of a distraction, but it was lovely just to get out there, to start off the job," said Jennings.

The O'Donovan brothers from Skibbereen made a cautious start to their heat which contained all European boats. Even though they were lying fourth after 500m they were still only 1.2 seconds off the leaders Italy.

Gradually they upped their pace and by half way were travelling at a speed of 18kmph - faster than any of the other boats and making rapid progress through the field. With three crews qualifying directly for the semi-finals they had their spot secured three quarters way through the race.

But as befits there status as the current European champions, they chased down the Italians in the final 500m and caught them just before the finish to win the heat in 6:23.72 with Italy second in 6:24.10. Denmark was a distance third in 6:33.67.

"We can't complain. Our goal was to come out here and try and win the race and we did that. We executed a really good race plan," said Gary.

However, his brother Paul dismissed the notion that they had chased down the Italians as they weren't prepared to give them any psychological advantage ahead of the semi-final.

"God no, Jesus. We go out and try and win every race we can. That's the kind of mentality we have. We were quite confident we could beat them as well. We were quite calm and collected in our race-plan, and it fell nicely into place," he said.

Ireland will be looking for more success today when Sanita Puspure, second in her heat on Saturday, competes in the quarter-final of the single sculls.

Irish Independent

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