BY NIAMH HAYES
FOUR West Cork rowers took on the best in the world at the World Indoor Rowing Championships in Paris last weekend.
Held at Coubertin Stadium, racing took place over Friday and Saturday, with over 2,000 athletes from 51 countries taking part.
Racing began on Friday evening with the 500-metre races. This is a sprint race that takes athletes anywhere between one minute and 12 seconds, which was the fastest time of the weekend, to over two minutes.
First up from West Cork was Chris O'Connor of Courtmacsherry Rowing Club competing in the lightweight men's 60+ category. Being lightweight meant that Chris had to weigh-in for his race one to two hours beforehand, needing to hit less than 75kg. After doing this successfully, Chris went on to hit a personal best time of one minute and 37 seconds, placing seventh overall in his category.
Next up for West Cork was Petra Klabenesova of Kilmacabea Rowing Club. Competing in the women's 30-39 category, she rowed 500m in one minute and 40 seconds, finishing sixth.
David Duggan of Kilmacsimon Rowing Club is no stranger to international events and this was his third successive year at the world championships. He competed in the men's 30-39 category, rowing 500m in one minute and 25 seconds, finishing 27th out of 60 athletes.
Niamh Hayes of Galley Flash Rowing Club competed in the lightweight women's open 500m category. Similar to Chris, Niamh had to weigh-in before her race to hit less than 61.5kg. She finished fourth in her category in a time of one minute and 47 seconds.
Saturday was the big day for athletes as they were tested in the 2,000m race. This is a benchmark test for all rowers as it tests power, fitness, endurance and speed.
Chris was, once again, the first West Cork rower to take to the stadium floor. After another successful weigh-in, he competed in the lightweight men's 60-64 category, finishing in a time of seven minutes, 30.1 seconds, placing him 12th.
Petra set a personal best time in her race, rowing 2000m in seven minutes and 28.1 seconds, finishing in tenth place in the women's 30-39 category.
David was up against 83 other rowers in his category of men's 30-39 and finished in 20th position, in a time of six minutes and 25.1 seconds. After another weigh-in, Niamh took to the floor in the lightweight women's open category, finishing in ninth place in a time of eight minutes and one second.
After already competing in two races each, Petra, David and Niamh teamed up and were joined by Kevin Doherty from Donegal to make up a senior mixed relay team. This was the first year of such an event at the world championships and involved each rower taking it in turns to sprint to the ergometer, strapping themselves in, rowing 250 metres as fast as possible, before passing a baton onto the next rower. The full race was 2000m so each athlete rowed two 250m pieces.
While most of the mixed relay teams were made up of three men and one woman, the Irish team took them on with two men and two women and finished in a very respectable 31st place out of 77 teams.
Focus now turns to the upcoming offshore and coastal rowing seasons.