AOIFE Casey is taking it one regatta at a time.
In the back of her mind sits the final Olympic qualification regatta in May, but before the Skibbereen rower can give that her full attention she has the European Rowing Championships in Varese this weekend (April 9th to 11th).
All her energy and focus is on the Europeans because that’s also a stepping stone to next month’s last-chance saloon in Lucerne.
After a winter of trialling Casey and Margaret Cremen – from Rochestown – were selected to race in the Irish lightweight women’s double at the Europeans. This boat – the only lightweight women’s boat that’s an Olympic event – has one final chance to qualify for this summer’s Games in Tokyo, so Casey and Cremen want a good performance in Italy to catapult them into Lucerne in top speed.
But they also know that another Skibbereen rower, Lydia Heaphy, is waiting in the wings to take a seat in the double if things don’t go to plan.
‘The Lucerne regatta is in the back of our minds but we can’t jump the gun yet because we have the Europeans first,’ Casey says.
‘It’s all about this week now, that’s the main focus, and depending on how that goes we’ll be officially selected for Lucerne or possibly re-trialled after the Europeans. It all depends on our performance in Italy.
‘There is a lot to play for, but we are focussing now on that we are in the boat and we want to make the most out of each session on the water and on the erg.’
Because the 2020 European Rowing Championships were held so late last year, in October, it gives Casey and Cremen the chance to gauge the gains they made over the winter. At last year’s Europeans they finished eighth overall in the lightweight women’s double after coming second in the B final.
This week’s action in Varese also gives them the opportunity to check out the opposition that they’ll compete against in Lucerne.
‘The lightweight field is very competitive at the moment because the lightweight double is the only Olympic event for lightweight women,’ Casey explains.
‘The standard is very high, we want to keep up with the leading boats and we feel that we can. We have made good gains over the winter and this should be a good, exciting regatta.
‘The A final is the main goal. From there, who knows. To get there is the main challenge.’
It helps that Casey (21) and Cremen (22) work well together. Look at their results, including silver in the lightweight women’s double at the 2020 European U23 Rowing Championships in Duisburg as well as a silver in the same boat at the European Junior Championships in 2017. They also raced in the double at last year’s senior Europeans so they’ve built up an impressive bank of work together.
‘When you know what makes the other person tick it makes it easier and we’ve also had a lot of time in the boat too – we have that experience together and that goes back to our junior days. The longer you row with someone, you gel together better, you understand what calls to make, what pieces the other prefers, it’s a learning process,’ explains Casey.
The Skibbereen woman knows too that this is a results business, defined by small margins, but she feels they are in a good position with the lightweight women’s group of Casey, Cremen and Heaphy – with Dominic Casey, her dad, as Rowing Ireland’s High Performance Lightweight Coach – coming off the back of a strong winter and a competitive trialling process.
‘After the Europeans last year we had a meeting, the three of us, with our coaches to chat about our goals through the winter,’ Casey explains.
‘That was our starting block. We wanted to get stronger and fitter over the winter. We had smaller goals going through the weeks and months, and that will come to a head when the racing season starts.
‘It’s a good, competitive environment. You want everyone to be as fast as they can because that pushes standards.’
In recent weeks, and with the crew known, there was a focus on shorter pieces and getting the double as fast as it can be ahead of the racing season that starts in Varese this Friday. There, Casey wants to lay down a marker, rubber-stamp her position in the double and then build towards the final Olympic qualification regatta in Lucerne where only two places at the Games in Tokyo are up for grabs.
‘We are staying on in Italy after the Europeans for a camp,’ Casey adds.
‘The entire Rowing Ireland team will end up being away until after Lucerne. It will be good, it’s a change of scenery, hopefully we’ll get some nice weather and flat water to really make some gains before the big regatta.
‘We usually go abroad for camps over the winter but we didn’t this time so getting this long camp in Italy is a great chance to get in the best shape we can ahead of Lucerne.’
Before that, it’s the Europeans in Varese, the opener to a season that, potentially, offers so much.