Ireland’s Katie O’Brien and Steve McGowan raced to Paralympic qualification in Belgrade this morning.
The Galway/Roscommon duo pulled out a terrific win in the heat of the PR2 Mixed Double to qualify for the final at the World Championships. With this top-six placing comes qualification for the boat for the Paralympic Games in Paris next year.
The Irish crew exploded off the start at 52 strokes per minute. Poland led them to halfway, but by then McGowan and O’Brien were the fastest crew on the water. They caught and passed the Poles, secured the win and and swept directly into the A Final. This lifted the boat into the Paralympic Games, as the top six qualify.
O’Brien, who has spina bifida, is the best in the world in the PR2 class. But Paralympic qualification could only come in the mixed double. Ballaghadereen man McGowan, who suffered spinal injuries in a car crash in 2017, came on board in 2021 and dedicated himself to the task. The two go into a World Championship final on Saturday gunning for a medal and knowing that Paris is on the horizon.
The Ireland pair of Aifric Keogh and Fiona Murtagh would have hoped to make it through from their heat to the semi-final. They finished second there – but grabbed their chance in the repechage today win which suggests they can reach the A Final.
The Ireland crew hit 49 strokes per minute from the start and led right through. Italy closed on them in the middle, and though both would go through, Keogh and Murtagh eased away from their challengers and won well – in the fastest time of all four repechages.
It did not go well for the Ireland men’s four. Reportedly, they were one of a number of Ireland crews affected by a bug affecting athletes from a number of countries. Fionnán McQuillan-Tolan, Adam Murphy, Jack Dorney and John Kearney rowed well early in the race, and were in second to Romania and in a qualifying spot at halfway. From there the race got away from them, with Ukraine taking second and Denmark, who had a great final 1,000 metres, pipping Germany for the third A/B spot. This ends Ireland’s hopes of qualifying this boat at this regatta.
The Ireland men’s quadruple took a good fourth place in their repechage – just one place off qualifying for the A/B semi-final. Australia were strong winners. Ireland moved from the back of the field at the 1,000-metre mark to put themselves into the reckoning for a qualifying spot. But Norway and the United States were not for yielding, and they will compete in the semi along with Australia.