ROWING: Women’s 4- Olympic Medal and the High Performance System

This week we released the first of three videos in a series looking at stories behind some of our Team Ireland Tokyo Olympic medals.

‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ tells the story of the Women’s Four who stormed to an Olympic Bronze medal on the Sea Forest Waterway on a blistering hot day at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic regatta. The four rowers revisit some of the work that went into the historic moment where they became the first Irish female rowers to win an Olympic medal, the first medal in an open class, and the first big boat to make a podium.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

When we talk about grit and determination, it can be summed up nicely in the previously untold story behind the title, blood, gore, stitches and an unwavering commitment to the task at hand.

It’s opened young people’s eyes, there’s no limits to Irish rowing, it’s growing so much. I’d like to think it’s quite inspiring – the sky’s the limit.

Emily Hegarty, Stroke of the Irish Women’s Four – Olympic Bronze Medallist.


FROM our first ever Olympic finalists in 2016 to first Olympic medallists five years later, Ireland’s female rowers are on a remarkable trajectory right now and still rising exponentially.

Lightweight double Sinead Lynch and Claire Lambe made the brilliant breakthrough to a Olympic final in Rio and the women’s four of Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Emily Hegarty and Fiona Murtagh went one better, producing a sensational finish to win that historic and joyous bronze medal in Tokyo.

There is also evidence of serious depth now in Rowing Ireland’s elite base in Iniscarra where 50% of the 30 carded athletes who train there together are female.

Two golds and two bronzes put Ireland seventh on the medal table at last year’s World Championships, a remarkable result ahead of major rowing powers like Germany, New Zealand, China, Australia and the United States.

Three of those medals were won by Irish women.

Katie O’Brien became the PR2 single sculls World Champion. As that event is not in the Paralympics, she is targeting the double scull with Steven McGowan to fulfil that dream and has moved to Cork to train fulltime.

Aoife Casey, left, and Margaret Cremen of Ireland. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Margaret Cremen and Aoife Casey, who finished eighth in Tokyo in 2021, won world bronze in the women’s lightweight double, knocking out the Olympic champions (Italy) in their heat and beating the Olympic silver medallists (France) in the final.

And the brand new partnership of Sanita Puspure and Zoe Hyde, just four months after they first joined forces, also won bronze in the double scull.

Rowing Ireland’s elite females are an extremely tightly knit group who all push each other to the limits in training and proudly post collectively, on social media, under the title of ‘Big Strong Gorls’.

But how has this remarkable growth come about and how much symbiosis is in it?

21 July 2021; Rowing Ireland high performance director Antonio Maurogiovanni during training at the Sea Forest Waterway ahead of the start of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

When Antonio Maurogiovanni became Rowing Ireland’s High Performance Director six years ago only Puspure, a two-time World and European champion in single sculls, was reaching these heights.

“When I arrived in 2016-2017 there was just one woman; Sanita. There was a lack of belief in Ireland that we could have senior and heavyweight women.

“It was almost like a tradition or a historical concept in the bones of the Irish rowers that they felt ‘no, we’re small, we can’t be heavyweight!’ and this was in male and female (mindsets),” he adds.

“I tried to break through that because I believe rowers are everywhere in the world. You just need to find them and create the right centralised programme and momentum for them.”

Success has undoubtedly helped drive collective standards and ambitions.

“The other girls see girls making finals and winning medals. There is that role model and snowball effect then – more girls want to be part of that.

“It has had a payback to the lightweights too because now they compete internally with the heavyweights, so we have a better lightweight programme with two crews (male and female) winning medals, where it was only the men in the past.”

Expanding the women’s programme was also timely as there are ongoing moves to remove lightweight rowing from the Olympic Games programme.

That was rejected for Paris 2024 but looks likely to happen before Los Angeles 2028 so developing more heavyweights is also future-proofing Ireland’s medal aspirations.

An Irish women’s eight was even entered in last year’s European Championships (it didn’t compete due to illness) but Maurogiovanni stresses that the big boat is not a priority.

“We don’t have a rowing population like Italy or Australia or Holland or the US, it’s very small and we don’t have any eight tradition. The women’s eight was more because the girls themselves wanted to do that,” he reveals.

“They enjoy going into the big boat together, it’s more about fun and development and learning a different speed but it’s not a target boat. The single, the doubles, the pair and the fours, these are our targets.”

This year is a one vital one as the World Championships (Belgrade, September 3-10) also offer the first chance for Olympic qualification.

Maurogiovanni stresses that no one in high performance can ever rest on their laurels and points out that success also comes with a cost.

“Does winning give the women psychological momentum? Absolutely yes! But, on the other side, it also gives pressure.

“One thing is to go in as an underdog but now everyone knows Ireland is on the rowing map. That puts pressure on the athletes and the coaches, on everyone in our high performance team.

“This is also ‘high performance’ sport,” he sagely points out.

“Everyone at this level has had medals on their neck in the past and has to deal with that pressure so we all have to learn to deal with that now.”

Clíona Foley in conversation with Antonio Maurogiovanni

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