BEFORE Aoife Casey and the Irish lightweight group flew out from their base in Banyoles last Monday, they were pushed to the limit on the water they know so well.
The last weekend of this training camp in Spain ahead of the World Rowing Championships in the Czech Republic meant it was ‘supercomp’ time. That’s the training programme rolled out before the big events. It’s the pain that leads to the gains.
‘It’s very intense pieces, you go max in every single stroke, just to squeeze every bit of speed out of you and then hopefully it all comes back and more when it counts,’ Casey explains.
Banyoles is their home away from home on training camps. The lightweights know it so well. Their regular, family-run hotel. The five-minute cycle to where they launch the boats. The small two-kilometre course they spend hours on every day. Up and down the same stretch of water. A monotony that rowers learn to enjoy. Supercomp, however, isn’t as super as its name suggests. The Irish lightweights were forced to dig deep. It is exhausting, but the grunt and graft should pay off at the Worlds in Racice, the last big event of the year.
This season has been a slow-burner for the Skibbereen rower. It’s been very disrupted, not the straight line rowers prefer, but she is targeting the best possible finish. Casey has won her seat back in the Irish women’s lightweight double, reuniting with Margaret Cremen. Together, they finished eighth at the Tokyo Olympics, but Casey had to watch on in recent months as Cremen and Skibbereen rower Lydia Heaphy won bronze at World Cup II together and finished fourth at the European Rowing Championships.
‘I finished my college exams in May but got Covid after that so that snookered the start of my season. I got a chest infection one month after I got Covid so everything was going wrong for me at that stage,’ Casey explains.
‘I missed out on World Cup II and a few trials as well, so it was easier to leave Mags and Lydia in the double and see how they get on in the Europeans because they’ve been going great. I got a chance to trial for the boat in Italy after the Europeans. It was my first trial of the year – and it’s a bit late in August – but I did my best and ended up getting in the boat.’
The competition for the two seats in the double is, much like supercomp, intense. Casey, Cremen and Heaphy are all pushing each other to new heights. No one can rest. At the Worlds next week it’s Casey and Cremen in the double with Heaphy in the single scull, but they know there are no guarantees about the make-up of the double heading into a crunch 2023 when Olympic qualification begins.
‘It’s been such a good start to the new Olympic cycle for us, to see everyone getting better and faster, and it is moving in the right direction,’ the Skibbereen rower says.
‘The lightweight event itself is so competitive. The margins are so fine. There was one second between the top five boats in the Olympic A final last year so it comes down to the smallest of margins. You just want the fastest two in the boat so that when push comes to shove you can be on the right side of those split seconds.’
While her 2022 international season has had its ups and downs, she’s determined to finish on a high. In a single at the Europeans in Munich Casey finished fourth after an impressive performance in the A final. She took that into the trials that followed in Italy and forced her way back into the double for the Worlds.
‘It can be a bit lonely in the scull sometimes when you are by yourself, but it’s about focusing on yourself and getting the most out of it,’ she explains.
‘I built a lot of confidence in the scull, training hard, and I was training with the girls together everyday as part of the group. I learned a lot from the Europeans too. It was my first international race in a single, a bit late to add it to my CV, but I learned loads and it was really positive.’
Now the target is a strong end to the year at the Worlds and take that into an important block of winter training when thoughts turn to 2023 and the Paris Games the following year.