This is turning out to be one of the great Irish sporting occasions. Ireland qualified two more boats at the World Rowing Championships here in Belgrade, bringing our definite starters in Paris 2024 to five boats – the most Ireland has ever qualified at this stage.
And to cap a wonderful day, Siobhán McCrohan won gold in the lightweight single sculls, sprinting away from Kenia Lechuga of Mexico and Sophia Luwis of the United States in the final quarter. She inspired huge cheers from the Ireland supporters (above). 
The water was very choppy and there was a disruptive wind. From the start, Martine Veldhuis of the Netherlands made hay as those in the favoured lanes one to three – McCrohan, Luwis and Lechuga – found it hard. “I think I had a full oar in Sophia’s lane,” McCrohan said.
But the second half was very different. Veldhuis missed a stroke and faded back; the top three took control and battled it out for podium positions. McCrohan, impressively, shot away and won gold. Silver fell to Lechuga, and Luwis, just a year on from a horrible car crash, took bronze.
McCrohan, who is 36, returned to rowing at the top level in the past 18 months after a long break. She said she came back to trials in 2018, but felt a recurrence of a shoulder complaint. Ireland lightweight coach Dominic Casey was good to her and helped her; she credits him with assisting her in turning her hopes into achievements.
She was asked what had driven her to come back. “I could not stay away any longer.”
The Tribesmen sculler joked that it was a dislike for ergometer that had helped her through the rough water. “I’ve been going out in really rough conditions since I was a junior to avoid doing ergs! That helped. When you can get a bit of a run going on the boat when it’s really rough, it does feel really good that you can actually get it to sit up and move.
“I’m not sure that I’d say it was fun. I was pinballing down between the two lanes, so it was a bit all over the place. I probably rowed a few extra metres on the way down. But it was a good race. All the long sessions paid off when the race is that long.”
The doubles had started the day off well, continuing a qualification run which had started when the mixed double qualified for the Paralympics on Tuesday.
The men’s double did their bit first. With the lanes redrawn again due to a bothersome wind, Philip Doyle and Daire Lynch were in lane three and the predictions were they might be in a battle with New Zealand in lane four for the crucial top-three place, with Spain and Croatia in lanes one and two taking those spots. But Ireland crews right now are a confident bunch. Doyle and Lynch burst through to lead – marginally – from Croatia’s wonder boat of Valent Marin Sinkovic by half way. The Croatians went on to win and Ireland, in second, had another Paris boat in the bag.
“We’ve qualified this boat for the Olympics and we’re in a position now to do another job on Sunday, hopefully push ourselves again, get into a nice position and show the speed we have. The hardest thing here is to perform on the day. Everything in preparation over the last few weeks is just focused on this moment. Hopefully we’ll just keep getting better and better.”
Next up were Zoe Hyde and Alison Bergin, the women’s double. Their second place was just as impressive; the US crew of Kristina Wagner and Sophia Vitas took full advantage of lane one, and its shelter from the wind, to win. But Hyde and Bergin were second all the way – even if the graphics on the screen here at the course did not show it, as the GPS on their boat was not recorded.
The Ireland crew even took on the Americans at the end, and were not far behind.
“We are thrilled! We tried to push all the way through the race, and it paid off,” Bergin said.
Jake McCarthy has not had the Championships he would have hoped for. The lightweight single sculls had a huge entry and ran to five finals (A to E). McCarthy competed in the D Final today. There were five scullers, as Finlay Hamill of New Zealand withdrew on medical grounds, and so this final decided places 19 to 23. Oskar Soedal of Norway won well. McCarthy, in the tough lane five, took fifth, 23rd overall.
On Saturday, Ireland crews are in four A Finals – the PR2 mixed double, the men’s pair, women’s pair and lightweight men’s double. And there is the chance of at least one more Olympic qualifier come the B finals of the women’s four and lightweight double.