As athletes pass the halfway mark in the shortest Olympic cycle in history, the Olympic Federation of Ireland today launched the first film in a mini docuseries reflecting on some of the Olympic medal moments from Tokyo 2020, a timely reminder of the work our sports and coaches and athletes put in less than 500 days before Paris 2024. ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ remembers the story behind the Olympic Bronze Medal-winning race of the Women’s Four, filmed in their high-performance centre at the National Rowing Centre in Cork.

On 28 July 2021, Team Ireland rowers Emily Hegarty, Fiona Murtagh, Eimear Lambe and Aifric Keogh made history when they became the first female rowers to win an Olympic medal, finishing third in the finals of the Women’s Four. It was the first time that Irish rowers won a medal in the open class of rowing, just one Olympic cycle after the O’Donovan brothers won their silver medal in Rio 2016.


Demonstrating the steely determination and resilience that exists in all Olympic athletes, the women’s Olympic journey was not without drama. This film documents the journey of the four athletes from lockdown through to sealing their Olympic qualification a mere two months prior to the Games, and to the historic Olympic final.

At the Olympic regatta, the crew were faced with an additional challenge, with Murtagh slicing her arm on the fin of the boat days before the final, requiring eight stitches on her arm. Facing a decision on whether she would be fit to race, there was no doubt in Murtagh’s mind about how it would unfold,

“I said, my Olympics debut is this weekend, I need to go on the water. I raced the heat and the final with the stitches. So blood, sweat and tears went into that final.”

In 2017, a strategic move from Rowing Ireland under the guidance of Performance Director Antonio Maurogiovanni, to a focus on the open or heavyweight boats was the catalyst to establishing Irish rowing as not only one of the most successful sports in Ireland but placing Ireland as a powerhouse in world rowing. As Irish rowers move ever closer to the first Olympic qualifying regatta for Paris 2024 this September, the success of the women’s four in Tokyo 2020 has had a positive knock-on effect on the system.

Maurogiovanni saw the opportunity within the Irish community to build a strong team of competitive women in the open class, saying,

“When I arrived in 2016-2017 there was just one woman; Sanita (Puspure). 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!’. This was in the male and female mindsets. 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.”

Highlighting that success breeds success, the Rowing Ireland high-performance programme is going from strength-to-strength, as they move towards the World Championships in Belgrade, 3 – 10 September. This regatta is the main opportunity for the Irish team to qualify boats for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris, a Games which will see Team Ireland celebrating 100 years of Olympic competition.

This is the first of three films that will mark some of the moments behind Team Ireland’s Tokyo 2020 medallists.

Women’s Four with PD Antonio Maurogiovanni and Coach Giuseppe de Vita – photo courtesy of Sportsfile
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