The Tokyo Olympic Games are upon us. With more than 11,300 athletes competing from 207 countries, Irish eyes were on double World and European single-scull champion, Sanita Puspure, as she got proceedings underway for Team Ireland. The 39-year old was in cruise control as she dominated her heat with a time of 7:46.08, almost eight seconds ahead of second-placed Kenia Lechuga of Mexico.
In what is testament to the growing strength of Irish Rowing, Puspure was the only Irish rower in London 2012 – in Tokyo, Team Ireland are represented by six crews, four women’s crews of 9 female athletes.
Racing in Lane 5, Puspure appeared under no pressure at the start, sitting comfortably down the field. By the 500m mark she had moved through to first place, without having to push too hard. Puspure hit the quarter mark in 1:54.94 – seven hundreths of a second faster than the Mexican Lechuga in second place. Once Puspure took the lead, she never looked like surrendering it.
Puspure was calm, comfortable, commanding and in cruise control. With her lead getting bigger and bigger, she never really got out of second gear and looked to manage herself in the hot and humid Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo.
In both London 2012 and Rio 2016, Puspure exited the Olympics at the quarter-final stage. She has the chance to put that disappointment behind her as she gears up for her quarter-final in the early hours of Monday morning Irish-time.
Puspure crossed the finish line in a time of of 7:46.08. Mexico’s Kenia Lechuga finished second in a time of 7:54.21 while Greece’s Anneta Kyridou crossed over in third with a time of 7:54.28. Puspure’s time was the fifth fastest among all six heats. New Zealand’s Emma Twigg, who is currently ranked as world number one, went fastest in the final heat of the day, crossing the 2km mark in 7:35.22.
Puspure had nothing to worry about it her heat, a class above the rest. The racing is about getting through each round and times don’t matter at this point. Puspure was joined by two athletes with Irish links as she lined up against Joan Poh of Singapore, who was coached by Neptune Rowing Club’s John Holland, as well as Kathleen Noble, Uganda’s first Olympic rower, who has Irish parents.
My favourite Olympic rower is Uganda’s Kathleen Noble. Her parents left Ireland for missionary work in Uganda in 1993 & Kathleen was born a year later. She swam at the 2012 world short course championships & only took up rowing at Princeton. The first Olympic rower for Uganda 🇺🇬 pic.twitter.com/DcCWVw5bb2— Dodge (@seidodge) July 21, 2021
Puspure spoke to the media after her race and highlighted the wind conditions as a factor. Conditions appeared to change from a from a cross wind to a tail wind for athletes in the latter heats.
“You can see the flags, it swings around a lot, so for our race I think it was a cross and a head wind. It changes very rapidly. So I think you just have to go with it and adapt as you go. You’re only racing five people when you race so you can’t think too far ahead. We had a really good training camp in Italy, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
An easy round one for #SanitaPuspure as she cruises away from the rest of the field. There are several more gears there from #Puspure. Two Irish links in her heat as #JoanPoh from Singapore was coached by @NeptuneRowing John Holland & Kathleen Noble of Uganda has Irish parents!!— Her Sport (@HerSportDotIE) July 23, 2021
Puspure added that she was relieved to get her Tokyo 2020 Olympic campaign underway. “That’s the first race done, I’m focusing on the next one now and taking it one race at a time. I’m not thinking too far ahead, and am staying calm and collected. “
The official Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will take place later this evening Tokyo time (12pm noon Irish time). Elsewhere, if it wasn’t apparent already, conditions are incredibly hot and humid in Tokyo. Russia’s archer, Svetlana Gomboeva collapsed due to heat stroke, as she checked her final scores. She required assistance from staff and teammates who put bags of ice on her head to cool her down.
Gomboeva quickly regained consciousness after collapsing but needed to be taken out of the arena on a stretcher by medical officers.
DAY ONE SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES ARE IRISH TIME): JULY 24TH, 2021
02:10 Rowing – Monika Dukarska and Aileen Crowley – Pair, Heats
02:50 Rowing – Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen – Lightweight Double, Heats
04:00 Rowing – Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh, Emily Hegarty – Four, Heats
11:28 Swimming – Ellen Walshe – 100m Butterfly, Heat 2
13:15 Hockey – Ireland v South Africa – Pool Match