Sanita Puspure’s bid to make it to a fourth Olympic Games ends in Lucerne

Ireland women’s four qualify for Olympics after victory in Lucerne

The Irish women’s four will be back in the boat at the Paris Olympics, winning the final Qualifying Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland on Tuesday morning after a thrilling race with the Danish crew.

It means Ireland have now qualified a record seven crews for Paris, one more than the six that qualified for the delayed Tokyo Olympics three years ago. But it wasn’t to be for Sanita Puspure, her quest to qualify for a fourth Olympics in the women’s singles falling dramatically short, as she went from first to fifth in the final 250m.

Just as she’d done in her heats and semi-final, the 42-year-old blasted to the front from the start, over two seconds clear at 500m, and over three seconds clear at halfway.

Puspure was still in front at 1,500m, but the Spanish rower Virginia Diaz Rivas soon drew level, and with that the Irish rower slowed right up, “hitting a buoy”, and losing all momentum in the process. Rivas took the win and one of the two Paris berths, Puspure finishing a clearly disappointed fifth in 8:03.05.


In the women’s four, only the top two boats would also seal those final Olympic berths, and while the Irish crew were safe in second from the 500m mark, they chased down the Danish crew in the last 500m and got back past them at the finish, winning in 6:37.59, just .79 ahead, but well clear of the Spanish crew, who took third, a further 12.34 seconds back.

Racing was fast and furious, despite the dull, occasionally drizzling conditions at Lucerne, the final Olympic Qualifying Regatta also known as the “Regatta of Death”, such is the cut-throat nature of the racing.

Denmark had won the preliminary race on Sunday, but this was a statement of intent by the Irish quartet of Imogen Magner, Eimear Lambe, Natalie Long and Emily Hegarty.

The women’s four also qualified at the final regatta before Tokyo and then went on to win bronze medals, and there will be similar hopes now for this quartet.

Long and Magner are new members of the crew since Tokyo, from Lee Valley Rowing Club and Carlow Rowing Club respectively, replacing Aifric Keogh and Fiona Murtagh. The four rowers who qualified this boat in Lucerne are now required to be the first-choice selection of Rowing Ireland.

Keogh and Murtagh had already qualified a boat in the women’s pair from the World Championships in Belgrade last September. The women’s four are coached by Giuseppe DeVita

Despite a brave and bold effort, it wasn’t to be for Konan Pazzaia in the men’s singles, the 23-year-old Swiss-born rower, with an Irish mother, looking to make his first Olympics.

This proved a highly competitive race, all six rowers practically neck-and-neck at the 500m mark, with Pazzaia just about lying in second. He held that position at halfway, before things started to change, and while Mihai Chiruta from Romania took the win in 6:59.44, Pazzaia faded to sixth, finishing in 7:08.81.

It was an impressive performance nonetheless from the rower from Queen’s University Belfast Boat Club, against far more experienced opposition, Pazzaia already laying down something of a marker ahead of the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.

Ireland had already qualified six boats for Paris, from last September’s World Rowing Championships in Belgrade. The boats qualified, though not necessarily the rowers who will be selected for Paris, were the lightweight women’s double of Margaret Cremen (UCC RC) and Aoife Casey (Skibbereen RC), and the lightweight men’s double of Paul O’Donovan (UCC RC) and Fintan McCarthy (Skibbereen RC)

The women’s pair of Fiona Murtagh (University of Galway BC) and Aifric Keogh (Dublin University Ladies BC), and the women’s double of Alison Bergin (Fermoy RC) and Zoe Hyde (Killorglin RC).

The men’s pair of Nathan Timoney (Queen’s University Belfast BC), Ross Corrigan (Portora BC), and the men’s double of Philip Doyle (Portora BC), Daire Lynch (Clonmel RC).

In Paris, O’Donovan will look to become the first Irish athlete in any sport to win a medal in three successive Olympics, after his silver in Rio (with older brother Gary), and gold in Tokyo (with Fintan McCarthy).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics