Monday 20 January 2020

Rowers ready to etch their names in history

Lynch and Lambe and O'Donovan brothers gunning for medals as they surge into finals

The picture tells a story as Sinead Lynch and Claire Lambe celebrate qualifying for today’s lightweight final as their American rivals feel the pain having missed out back in fifth. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
The picture tells a story as Sinead Lynch and Claire Lambe celebrate qualifying for today’s lightweight final as their American rivals feel the pain having missed out back in fifth. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Cathal Dennehy

For a feat so extraordinarily difficult, they sure made it look easy.

Yesterday morning in Rio, the men's and women's Irish lightweight double sculls delivered the most significant quarter of an hour in Irish rowing history, slicing through the water on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas to finish third in their respective semi-finals, setting up what could prove a momentous afternoon for Irish sport today.

It was not so much the athletic feats of Sinead Lynch, Claire Lambe and brothers Paul and Gary O'Donovan, however, but their attitudes in the wake of such achievement which inspired hope that the sun is finally rising on an otherwise gloomy Olympics for the Irish.

Because shortly after emerging from the water, it was not to the assembled media that they flocked to discuss their accomplishment. No, it was straight to the cool-down area, the massage tables, off to source their shakes and snacks to refuel and recover in order to deliver the performance that could etch their names in history in today's final.

When they finally emerged to face a sunburnt, slightly irritated media horde, Lynch in particular struck an ambitious tone that this would not be their climax, but simply a plot development. They still want the fairytale ending this afternoon.


"We didn't need a superhuman effort today," said Lynch. "We didn't have to empty the tank and that's nice to know, given there's only one day to the final. It might stand to our advantage given we don't feel wrecked."

The pair had just become the first Irish female crew to reach an Olympic A final, but their beaming faces showed scant signs of the seven-odd minutes of extreme exertion they had placed their bodies under shortly before.

Having reached 1500m in fourth position, Lynch and Lambe knew an extra gear was needed over the final 500m, and truth be told, some doubts were starting to creep into their minds.

"The last 250 I was afraid," said Lambe. "Some doubts came in, and I thought: 'oh God, what if something goes wrong?' Thankfully we held it together."

Not only that, but when the Irish pair sent the search party out for speed in the final stretch, they weren't long finding what they wanted, their acceleration carrying them past the Danish crew to take third place behind the Netherlands and Canada in 7:18.24.

"Going out there today, I said I'm not leaving this behind," said Lynch. "I deserve it."

Their finishing time, perhaps significantly, was faster than the second and third-place finishers in the second heat, New Zealand and China, igniting suggestions that a medal may even be on the cards this afternoon.

Lambe, for one, seemed to have left any doubts behind her in the water and struck a confident tone ahead of the final. "They're crews we have raced before, they're all in pretty good form at the moment but they're not unbeatable," she said. "We're all weighting in at 57kg; there's no superhumans out there."

Some would argue otherwise, certainly the vocal contingent from Skibbereen Rowing Club who roared their support at their proudest sons, Paul and Gary O'Donovan, as the brothers took to the water immediately after Lynch and Lambe yesterday morning.

Not many were happy about Wednesday's rowing session being postponed due to bad weather, apart, that is, from the brothers' father Teddy and uncle David, who arrived on a delayed flight on Wednesday night.

The pair made it to the grandstand yesterday morning in time to witness a momentous family achievement, as the O'Donovans unleashed a potent finishing burst to move up to third place in the final 500m, coming home in 6:35.70, marginally behind France (6:34.43) and USA (6:35.19).

"We knew the French and the British were very quick starters, but we knew if we stuck with the Americans we could truck on towards the middle because British have been dying a death all through the year," said Paul. "We knew we could come through them at the end, and that's what happened."

They may have entered the race with a laser-like focus, but afterwards they couldn't help hear the support echoing their way from the stands, or indeed fail to appreciate the effect this 15 minutes of fame for Irish rowing may have for the sport back home.

"We've a bunch of friends here from the rowing club and they're causing a right old noise up in the grandstand," said Gary. "It's great to hear them. We take great pride and are delighted we can be representatives and ambassadors, not just for Skibbereen but for the sport as a whole. It's a huge honour to be in this position."

Even though this was always the plan, they appreciate now just how privileged a position it is, albeit one they've got to by shedding enough of their own sweat to sink a ship.

"It doesn't really bother us that we're in an Olympic final," said Paul. "It was in our heads all year that it was going to happen."

Even still, it's hard to escape the feeling that opportunity is knocking like never before.

"This is the Olympic final and it'll be unlike any race we've ever done before," said Gary. "We'll get the recovery right, stay calm, come back and go as fast as we can from start to finish. We'll do our very best."

Irish Independent

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