Ireland’s rowing Four are history makers. The number of women who have medalled at the Olympic Games for Team Ireland doubled in the early hours of this morning after Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty ground out a hard-fought bronze medal. The second Irish crew to ever win a rowing medal at the Olympics and the first Irish female crew to ever do so.
After already making history to become only the second Irish female crew to ever get to an A Final at the Olympic Games, the current European Championships silver medallists and now Olympic Games bronze medallists, had had their eyes set on the bigger prize.
Coming into the race, Australia were tipped as clear favourites with the Netherlands not too far behind them. For Ireland it was clear they had the talent, know-how and pedigree to get themselves on the podium but it was a matter of navigating the tough conditions and actually executing.
At the halfway mark, Australia and the Netherlands had pulled away from the field and it left Ireland fighting with Team GB and China for a place on the podium. The gap between the three crews were 0.2s and 0.07s with 1000M to go.
It perhaps wasn’t where Ireland would have envisaged themselves before the race but the temperament and belief they showed, was fantastic. This Irish Four are not a crew you want to go toe-to-toe with in the back-end of a race. They’ve shown it on the European stage and even in their heat against Australia, in that final 500M they will kick-on and put distance between your boat. That is exactly what they did.
“We knew we could win a medal, it was just about whether we could pull it off,” Aifric Keogh told RTÉ. “We knew every crew in the boat was also capable of winning a medal and it was just about who got down the course as well as they could in position. It was a bit touch and go.
“Throughout the race, I was like, ‘we could be fourth, fifth.’ Eimear makes the strategy calls and I tell us where we are in the field. I was looking out and I was like, ‘Oh god’.
“In my head, we were slipping back but we said to ourselves if that happens we go early and the last 1k we backed ourselves. Everyone else knows out here that in the last K we just start to go and you could kind of hear it, left and right they were like, ‘don’t let them, don’t let them’.”
Ireland powered past Team GB to cross the finish line in third place take bronze which is due reward for all the hard work, sacrifice and commitment this Four have put in to each other in the past 18 months. Australia claimed gold with a time of 6:15.37, the Netherlands silver with 6:16.71 and Ireland in third in 6:20.46. Ireland managed to put over a second on Team GB who had been leading them with 500M to go.
The Irish quartet were lying fifth at the halfway mark and, as they passed the 1000m mark, they pushed passed China, increasing the pressure on GB, before eventually passing them at the closing stages to take home the bronze.
Speaking after the race, Eimear Lambe said, “It’s a bit surreal, to be honest.”
“It’s something for the future and hopefully this will be the first of many and hopefully it gives the young girls coming up now a bit of hope that this is completely possible. If we can do it anyone can.”
Continuing with the rowing, the Lightweight Double Sculls crew of Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen finished fifth in their semi-final after a valiant effort. The duo wil progress to tomorrow’s B final after crossing the line behind Switerland in a time of 6:49.24.
Casey and Cremen left it all on the water and gave it everything they had. With top three qualifying for the final they put themselves in a great position but ultimately it proved one step too far for this young crew who have excelled at this level at such a young age.
In the Pair semi-final, Aileen Crowley and Monika Dukarska also progress to the B Final after finishing 5th. The Pair couldn’t hold on to the three breakaway crews of Great Britain, Canada and Australia in the early stages and those three looked set to book their place in the final until a stunning final 500m from the unfancied Greece saw them claim a surprise victory to force Australia into the B Final with Ireland.
Ireland produced a big second half comeback but were just held at bay by Germany, setting up a showdown on Friday with India where a victory would likely bring a quarter-final spot.
In a match packed full of incident, Germany – recently installed at second in the world – led 3-0 early in the second courtesy of a double from Lisa Altenburg and one from Cecile Pieper. But two corner strikes from Lena Tice and Hannah McLoughlin had the Green Army right back in the mix going into the closing stages before a contentious Francisca Hauke goal settled the tie.
“Games against Germany are always quite physical and they’re quite fun too, so I think we enjoyed that game,” Chloe Watkins reflected.
“I think 4-2 is probably not really a fair reflection, we probably deserved a point if I’m honest. One or two things didn’t go our way but I think we played really well, we came up to it, they’re world number 3 and I think it was a really good battle, we matched them in a lot of areas.”
“We could have rolled over in the fourth quarter and let them come in but we didn’t. We fought hard and we knew goal difference is really important. They were really good goals, really well worked and it just showed our fighting spirit to give us confidence going into the next game.”
Ireland sit fourth in the group with two games to go with four teams advancing to the quarter-finals. India fell 4-1 to Great Britain to leave them with three losses on their record and targeting the Irish game as one they need to win to keep their tournament hopes alive.
“India have strong elimination skills, the ability to crash the ball [direct] is something they are well known for,” is coach Sean Dancer’s assessment of that encounter. “Understanding their structure but also willing to front up well and I think we match up nicely against them. We will try and get on the front foot and punish them any way we can.
“We knew the Dutch and German games would be difficult and probably take care of themselves. I suppose the hard work starts now – we always knew India and GB would be where the tournament gets really interesting and we have to step up and is the main challenge.”
There was major heartbreak for Irish Judoka and first-time Olympian, Megan Fletcher, in the first elimination round in the women’s – 70kg this morning. Fletcher displayed impressive skill and determination against Austria’s Michaela Polleres, but lost by Waza-Ari in the final three seconds of the bout.
Both Judokas picked up Shido penalties in the opening 46 seconds of the match, with Fletcher picking up a second towards the three-and-a-half-minute mark.
As pressure was mounting, Fletcher closed the space and Polleres preformed a Ushiro-goshi – a waza technique that consists of grasping the opponent in a bear hug, lifting them, and throwing them down on the tatami, to result in a 1s1 – 0s2 win for the Austrian.
“It was always going to be a really hard contest,” said Fletcher afterwards. “It was a rematch from the bronze medal at the World Championships six weeks ago. For our entire careers, we have been having head-to-head fights. You have to be in the best position that you can, someone has to win, and someone has to lose. It wasn’t meant to be today.
“I have had a great career. I am very proud of myself. It is great for our family to have two Olympians. It was really hard watching Ben in Rio when I didn’t make it myself. I am very proud of him and will cheer him on when he competes next.”
'Unfortunately in judo it's so cutthroat, if you lose in the early rounds, that's it your done'@megan_fletcher1 reflects on her tough last-gasp defeat #olympics #tokyo2020 #RTESport— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) July 28, 2021
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