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'I used to be miles ahead... now everyone is closing up and I'm starting to panic!'

Sanita Puspure’s gold medal at World Championships has spurred those around her on more too.

BECOMING A WORLD champion is something every athlete dreams of.

The gold medal, the podium, the flag, the national anthem. 

Sanita Puspure celebrates winning the gold medal Sanita Puspure after winning gold last year. Source: Detlev Seyb/INPHO

A life-changing moment, but truth be told, it’s often not that life changing. There are some small differences but before and after isn’t exactly black and white. Well, that’s been the case for Sanita Puspure anyway.

After representing Ireland with distinction for almost a decade, the Latvia-born rower secured a gold medal after a stunning display in the women’s single sculls final at the World Championships in Bulgaria last September.

But becoming a World champion didn’t exactly change the 37-year-old’s life.

“Not massively,” Puspure, who lives in Ballincollig, Cork, admits, when she’s asked if it did. “I still have to go and do all the same training to keep my form.

“It would be nice to transfer all of last year’s fitness to this year but that’s not possible!

“There’s definitely more (commercial) opportunities which is great but, at the same time, I look back at when I was fourth in the world and I was the exact same athlete. I had the same story behind me but there was nobody who wanted to support me.

“When you become a world champion there are more, not many but more opportunities. That’s kind of sad because you need that support before you become world champion.”

Now on €40,000 ‘Podium’ funding — the highest-level of annual funding from Sport Ireland — and back studying strength and conditioning in Setanta College, Puspure is thankful for everything that comes her way in life on and off the water. 

She’s the type to keep her head down and get on with what’s to be done.

Explaining her racing schedule for the summer ahead — European Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland in three weeks time (31 May – 2 June), the last World Cup event in Rotterdam (12-14 July) and World Championships in Linz, Austria (25 August – 1 September) — one thing becomes immediately apparent.

There’s not a whole lot of competing when you look at the hours of training put in. 

“It is very little competition for all the training we do,” she agrees. “We can pick to do more races. We used to do a little bit more and can add things like Henley, but last year we just raced three times and that was good.

“We had blocks of four to five weeks training in between each and every time we went to race, we went faster so we edged up to that peak performance gradually.”

Sanita Puspure At the Kinetica Sports and Rowing Ireland sponsorship announcement yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It worked for her anyway. Was that approach key for her winning?

“Maybe,” she smiles. “Certainly if you race every two weeks you come back and spend half the week recovering for the next one and then you’re not actually getting that massive physiological hit you want to keep that peak form going.

“I think it worked very well last year even if it would be nice to race a little bit more. But when it comes to the bigger picture I don’t mind.”

As the conversation moves on to her training load, Puspure says that she’s stopped counting her mileage. In or around 200km per week, she estimates, adding that it’s “not massive” but the intensity it’s done at is what matters. 

While the majority of it is done on the water, the rowing machines still get their fair share of usage because there, they can track numbers.

“Just to make sure we are not slacking off,” she grins, the Cork twang coming out more and more in her accent. 

The competition is fierce within the Irish squad. And with the title of World champion comes more and challenges. There’s a sense that if she can do it, so can I.

“The environment is pretty much the same but maybe the good thing is that everyone can see, ‘I’m doing pretty much the same programme as her so maybe I can be world champion as well!’ Maybe that’s the difference.

“The momentum picked up and so we’re just trying to drive it and keep it up.”

Two rising stars, Aifric Keogh and Monika Dukarska, are with Puspure at the Kinetica Sports and Rowing Ireland sponsorship announcement, and she soon points to them.

“Monika and Aifric are training with me and producing better numbers than ever before on the rowing machines,” she continues.

Sanita Puspure on the way to winning her heat Puspure on the water. Source: Detlev Seyb/INPHO

“I used to be miles ahead of everyone and now everyone is closing up and I’m starting to panic! It’s like everyone is on the train now and driving on.

“They push me all the time and they tell me that I’m pushing them. We do racing sessions on the water at home and they come up with percentages, and we’re like ‘Ok, who got it this time’ and you’re like ‘Oh they beat me this time, I’ll get you next time.’

“We have an inner drive to be top of the percentages on the day and if someone else wants the same thing you’re going against each other and that naturally drives the whole group.”

While she’s said before that her husband says she’s like a fine wine — getting better with age — life at home is as hectic as ever with her children, Patrick, 12, and Daniela, 11, getting older and bolder.

Juggling it all is tough, and Purpure concedes that her kids often miss out because of her own commitments on the world stage.

“I’d say they suffer on the sports side because I’m a full-time athlete,” she frowns, “they’re not being driven to as many activities as maybe they’d want to or we should be.

“Maybe that’s why they’re becoming a bit lazy at this stage. We don’t push them because we don’t have the time to drive them around.

“They do small bits and pieces but nothing very seriously. They’re coming into the teenage years too, which is more difficult and involves ‘Push, push, push.’

“I’m like ‘D’you not just want to do it yourself?’ But hopefully they’ll grow out of it. It’s important to keep them active and sometimes they don’t understand that.”

With normal parenting, her extreme training load and calorie intake set at over 5,000 a day — which means food often becomes a chore — she has enough on her plate, excuse the pun.

In a fiercely competitive field, World Championships are the only Olympic qualifier this year. It’s the top nine there who’ll make the cut for Tokyo this year, with more opportunities on the line to seal a place next year.

Aifric Keogh, Sanita Puspure and Monika Dukarska with Sarah Rowe and Anne Dalton At yesterday's announcement. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

She lists out a few big rivals, but at the end of the day, she’ll focus mainly on herself.

“You can have inklings about people’s form early in the season but then again, my performance at Worlds [last year] was a massive peak which probably some didn’t expect,” she explains. 

“That’s because we didn’t race Europeans and had such a really good block of training.”

Same again this year.

Well, the change of time means that she can also race Europeans this time around. Lastly what about Tokyo? 2020 must be at the back of her mind?

“Yes, but let’s just get the Olympic qualification first and get it right this time,” she concludes. 

“I got it wrong twice before. In London I did it at the last chance so I was delighted to qualify but in Rio, I really screwed it up at the Worlds.

“This time it just has to be right.”

Sanita Puspure was on hand to announce Kinetica Sports Nutrition’s headline sponsorship of Rowing Ireland yesterday.

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Emma Duffy

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