EMILY Hegarty and the Irish women’s four are hoping to hit top speed at the final Olympic qualification regatta in Lucerne.
The top two crews in the women’s four this weekend will book their place at the Tokyo Games this summer – and the Irish quartet of Hegarty, Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe and Fiona Murtagh are pulling out all the stops.
At last month’s European Rowing Championships in Italy, the Irish boat won a superb silver medal and they have built on that momentum during their training camp in Varese, having stayed on there after the Europeans.
Their target is to peak this weekend in Lucerne and take one of the two Olympic spots up for grabs.
‘The camp has been good. We have got some good, solid training done. We haven’t had any illness or injury in the crew so it’s been pretty consistent and we’re happy with it,’ the Skibbereen woman says.
‘The programme has changed slightly towards an early peak and it’s a bit different to what we had been doing coming up to the Europeans. It’s gearing us more towards racing than long miles.
‘We are spending more time at race rate rather than slow and steady long miles. Usually we would be doing this programme later in the season whereas we are getting a taste of it now to make sure we are as fast as we can be for this weekend.’
This weekend is last-chance saloon for crews who haven’t yet qualified for the Olympics. There are only a few places left at the Games so it’s all or nothing now – that can bring an extra pressure.
‘It’s a mixture of excitement and nerves right now,’ the 23-year-old West Cork woman says.
‘Once the first race is over I will feel a lot more relaxed. The unknown coming into it is the piece that I find nervy but once you get that first race done, you know where you stand and you will also have a better idea of what the other crews are like.’
Even though their second place at the European Rowing Championships marks the Irish women’s four out as one of the favourites this weekend, Hegarty is quick to point out that several crews have changed since the action in Varese.
In the A final at the Europeans, Ireland finished second to The Netherlands and ahead of Great Britain in third and Romania in fourth – and these three crews have all qualified for the Olympics. From that A final, Ireland, Italy and Russia were the three crews who are still battling for a spot at the Games.
There are a lot of unknown elements this weekend, Hegarty explains.
‘We can be confident in ourselves and in our own speed because we know what work we have done and how well the camp has gone,’ she says.
‘We can’t read too much into the results at the Europeans either because the entries are out and there are a few crew changes since then. Russia and Italy will be there this weekend, and Ukraine who were in the B final at the Europeans, and the Chinese are an unknown entity. We haven’t raced the Chinese crew since the Worlds in 2019 and it’s a different crew again so they are a big unknown.
‘There are eight crews entered this week so it will be two heats, a repechage and then a final.’
The action in Lucerne takes place across Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and Hegarty and Co want to be in the big race next Monday where the top two will go to the Olympics.
‘We are confident that we are going well, we will stick to our plan and hopefully that will make sure that we are in contention this weekend,’ Hegarty says – and, hopefully, by next Monday night she’ll be a huge step closer to realising her ambitions of becoming an Olympian.