Ireland’s challenge at the final Olympic qualification regatta ended with a heartening win for the women’s four and a heartbreaking exit for Sanita Puspure. The Ireland men’s single sculler, Konan Pazzaia, leaves Lucerne with the consolation of reaching the last six of a massive field.
Emily Hegarty and Eimear Lambe now have the honour of having come through two successive Olympic qualifiers – winning the final in both. While it is an unwanted title, last time out the women’s four, which then also featured Aifric Keogh and Fiona Murtagh, went on to take a memorable bronze, at Tokyo 2020.
Natalie Long and Imogen Magner came in for Murtagh and Keogh this time, but the outcome was similar. Denmark had the win in their sights, but Hegarty in the stroke seat did not relent. Ireland came through the red buoys which cover the final 250 metres and won.
“We were just focused on the race, listened to all the calls and were trusting ourselves. We all had a crazy journey to get here and it’s amazing to see how all the hard work paid off,” Long said. She is pictured (second left), with Hegarty, Magner and Lambe.
Those red buoys will be freighted with a very different significance for Puspure. The Ireland great, a two-time world champion and thrice an Olympian, came unstuck in the run to the line, hit a buoy and saw her chance of Paris torn away. Virginia Diaz Rivas of Spain had eaten into Puspure’s customary lead – and then got past her. Had the Ireland sculler held on to her second place she would have still been bound for Paris, but her difficulty, and the time it took her to recover, was an opportunity for the rest of the field. Swiss competitor Aurelia-Maxima Katharina Janzen swept into second and goes on to Paris. Puspure finished fifth.
Pazzaia’s journey to the A Final of an event with 30 competitors is a story in itself. To land the spot in the Ireland single he won a battle with Brian Colsh, the man he teamed up with in the double to take gold at the World Under-23 Championships last year. He then won his heat and quarter final, and secured third in the semi to eke through to the A Final.
His time suggested a placing at the back of the field, but Pazzaia was in touch with the leaders all the way until decisive moves by Mihai Chiruta of Romania and United States Jacob Plihal of the US swept them into the crucial top two. Pazzaia was sixth; fourth was held by two-time Olympic medallist Kjetil Borch of Norway.