Friday 20 July 2018

Puspure's heart broken in a rowing Paradise

Sanita Puspure of Ireland following her fourth place finish. Photo: Sportsfile
Sanita Puspure of Ireland following her fourth place finish. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

The purest Olympians are not rational beings and Sanita Puspure has always willingly accepted a charge that this obsession she carries might just decree her ever so gently, gracefully unhinged.

Her story offers scant argument it should be said, albeit beneath a pale morning sun at Stade de Lagoa yesterday, it was easy to fall under a misapprehension that the Almighty was in upbeat mood when he designed the world of the single sculler.

The wintry pinch of Inniscarra Woods must seem some kind of inky hallucination when you glide across a jewelled lagoon with Christ the Redeemer staring implacably down upon you from a wispy veil of cloud. It's certainly a beautiful place to have your heart broken.

And that's what befell Puspure here.

She could be seen being comforted by coach Sarah Jane McDonnell immediately after revisiting her torment of London 2012 by finishing fourth in an Olympic quarter-final. Her first words uttered by the waterside? "I'm never going to an Olympics again!"


Of 24 boats to contest yesterday's quarter-finals, only four went quicker than Puspure's. Crucially, three of them were in her race.

Hence eight slower finishers line up in tomorrow's semi-finals whilst an almost certainly ambivalent Puspure must seek consolation in the repechage.

For someone whose family moved to Cork five years ago to support her pursuit of Olympic glory, the detail of yesterday's heartbreak, thus, became barely palatable. Her eyes moistened when told that 0.65 of a second was the margin by which the 44-year-old Belarusian Ekaterina Karsten edged Puspure out of the coveted third place, a margin that had been dwindling rapidly.

"I probably let them go a little bit too far away," she sighed after.

That was certainly how it looked to the untrained eye, Puspure (34) drifting to fourth, four seconds off gold medal favourite, Australia's Kimberley Brennan, inside a manic opening 500 metres. Brennan, who had struggled in the heats having made the wrong boat choice for choppy waters, went away this time as if spotting a crocodile clamber down off the bank.

Her pace was furious and Karsten, who competed for the Soviet Union in a dim and distant past, seemed to all but take a tow from Brennan in the lane next to her while China's Jingli Duan also hit a maniacal early stroke-rate.

By half-way, Puspure trailed third-placed Duan by a boat-length and was, already, slipping into crisis.

"I started pushing on from there and had a big finish but, unfortunately, came up a little bit short," she reflected later.

"The plan was to be sensible for the first 1,000 metres and gradually just turn the screw. I thought that was what I did but, obviously, everyone else did exactly the same."

Wife to Kaspars and mother to Patrick and Daniela, Puspure was holding it together until someone (me) pointed out the glaring anomaly of having been out-qualified by eight slower boats. It was then that you sensed the implications crowd in around her.

"Thanks, that makes me feel so much better," she said, swallowing hard. "Unfortunately, in the first day of racing, the heats brought absolutely hectic results and, because of that, the draw was completely messed up and I came the wrong side of it, again."

A gold medallist at the World Student Games when just 22, Puspure gave up her job as a policewoman to go travelling with Kaspars. They ended up in Dublin eventually and, having taken a wrong turn one day when searching for the Zoo, they stumbled upon Islandbridge. There, the sight of scullers on the water rekindled her childhood fire.

Her performances with Old Collegians subsequently triggered interest within the High Performance system and, when it became clear that to be part of that system Latvian-born Puspure would have to move closer to the National Rowing Centre in Cork, she persuaded family - with some difficulty in Kaspars' case - to resettle there with her.

Qualifying for the London Games brought vindication, but Puspure did not get past the quarter-finals and seemed to drift until she came in contact with High Performance coach Don McLachlan.

His influence helped her to European bronze in Brandenburg last January and, within the Olympic camp, there was genuine belief that, with luck, Puspure could find her way to the Olympic podium here.

But that luck eluded her, creating a lop-sided quarter-final draw that has now propelled a Mexican, 16 seconds off Puspure's time, into the semi-finals.

Asked if a run in this afternoon's repechage could offer anything in the nature of comfort, she was predictably unimpressed.

"I'm not even thinking about that," she said. "It's a grief process."

Helpful wretches that we are, we mentioned the investment family had made in her dream.

"Yeah, keep digging, sorry. . ." she trembled, wheeling away, the tears now finally falling.

Irish Independent

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