Four Ireland crews took to the water and all four won their semi-finals at the World Under-23 Championships in Plovdiv in Bulgaria.
The two single scullers, Alison Bergin and Andrew Sheehan, had both had to come through repechages, and were not tipped to win, but both overhauled and thoroughly beat early leaders.
Sheehan’s win was extraordinary. Leonardo Tedoldi of Italy had beaten Sheehan in their heat, forcing the Irishman into a repechage. Tedoldi then controlled semi-final race – until he didn’t. Sheehan pushed hard into the last quarter of the race and the Italian couldn’t deal with it. The Lee oarsman took a big lead, and Tedoldi actually tightened up so much he faded back to fourth, and into the B Final.
In Bergin’s race, Anna Santruckova of the Czech Republic led at halfway, but by then the Fermoy sculler was moving. At 1150 metres she had pushed ahead, and Santruckova was over seven seconds down at the finish.
Switzerland’s Aurelia-Maxima Janzen, who had beaten Bergin in the heat, won the other semi-final – but in a slower time. Last year, on her way to a bronze medal in this event, Bergin had set a world’s best time. On Sunday it will be the gold medal she will be chasing.
Konan Pazzaia and Brian Colsh (pictured) also took bronze last year at this event. Both have gone on to compete at senior level for Ireland. To reunite and come to this regatta, the aim had to be gold. They took over the lead early in their semi-final and kept a high stroke rate for most of the race. They stretched the margin to France, their main challengers, to over a length (3.27 seconds) by half way.
To secure their third place, Lithuania finished fast and put France under pressure, so the crews tightened up coming to the line. But Ireland’s gap to France was clear; 2.84 seconds.
Colsh and Pazzaia covered the course more than three and a half seconds faster than Uruguay, who won the second semi-final with a late sprint.
Rory O’Neill and Ciarán Purdy caught and passed France in their lightweight doubles semi-final. France led at the 1,000 metre mark, but O’Neill and Purdy moved well through the final 1,000 metres, mastering their rivals not long after the 1500-metre mark and going on to win by 1.39 seconds.
Germany won the other semi-final with a slightly faster time.