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Skibb’s elite rowers target 2020 Olympic qualification

Sunday, 25th August, 2019 9:00am

Story by Kieran McCarthy
Skibb’s elite rowers target 2020 Olympic qualification

Fintan McCarthy (pictured) will partner Paul O'Donovan in the lightweight double at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Austria this week.

TEN Skibbereen rowers will represent Ireland at the 2019 World Rowing Championships that begin in Linz, Austria on Sunday.

Rowing Ireland is sending a huge team of 11 crews to these World Championships that also act as the main qualification event for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

This is the first chance that rowers can qualify for the 2020 Olympics, though there is the fall-back of a final Olympic qualification regatta next year if things don’t go to plan in Austria next week.

Similar to the recent World Rowing Cup III regatta in Rotterdam, 2016 Olympic silver medallists, Paul and Gary O’Donovan, have been split up again for these championships.

In Rotterdam Paul was joined in the Irish men’s lightweight double by Skibbereen Rowing Club’s Fintan McCarthy, and in their first international event together they won silver. Paul and Fintan will again race in the lightweight double in Linz, as the Skibb duo look to qualify the boat for next summer’s Olympics.

This is the same boat that Paul and Gary shot to fame in during the Rio Olympics in 2016, and it’s also the only Olympic-class lightweight boat.

Thirty-three countries are entered into the ultra-competitive men’s lightweight double in Linz, and Paul and Fintan need to finish in the top seven crews to qualify the boat for the 2020 Olympics.

Gary O’Donovan, similar to the World Rowing Cup regatta in Rotterdam, will compete in the non-Olympic men’s lightweight single sculls. The hope is that Paul and Fintan will qualify the lightweight double for Tokyo and then Gary will be back in the mix to try and win his seat back ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

It’s great too to see that former world lightweight pair champions Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll have been given the nod to compete at the Worlds in the men’s pair. The Skibbereen men have endured a frustrating season and at one stage it looked likely that they would miss out on selection for these Worlds, but they have been given a vote of confidence. The last time Mark and Shane rowed internationally for Ireland was at the 2018 Worlds in Bulgaria where they finished 16th overall in the pair, having stepped up from lightweight in late 2017. A top 11 place at the 2019 Worlds will qualify the Irish men’s pair for the 2020 Olympics.

Denise Walsh and Aoife Casey are also heading to Linz with the target of qualifying the Irish women’s lightweight double for next year’s Games. Denise had been partnered by Lydia Heaphy, also Skibbereen Rowing Club, at the 2019 European Rowing Championships and World Rowing Cup III, but the combination of Denise and Aoife has been favoured for the World Championships. They must finish in the top seven to qualify the boat for the Olympics. Meanwhile, Lydia will race in the non-Olympic women’s lightweight single sculls.

Another Skibbereen rower chasing Olympic qualification is Emily Hegarty who is named in the Irish women’s four – along with Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe and Tara Hanlon – that need to finish in the top eight to qualify the boat for the Olympics. Hegarty recently won silver with the Irish women’s four at the World U23 Championships in Florida and will be looking to maintain that momentum in Austria.

Another Skibbereen rower, Jake McCarthy, is included in the Irish lightweight men’s four along with Hugh Sutton, Ryan Ballantine and Miles Taylor; this is a non-Olympic boat class.

The championships start on Sunday, 25th, and run for eight days up to September 1st.