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For one of Ireland’s biggest medal hopes, the Olympics' postponement could be a blessing in disguise

Sanita Puspure on how the dramatic change of plans have impacted on her.

Sanita Puspure (file pic).
Sanita Puspure (file pic).
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Updated Mar 25th 2020, 4:17 PM

SANITA PUSPURE ADMITS it took her a while to accept the increasingly inevitable postponement of the Olympics.

For the 38-year-old rower, who was born in Riga but moved to live in Cork in 2006, representing Ireland since 2010, Tokyo 2020 had looked set to be the pinnacle of her career.

She has already competed in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing 13th on both occasions.

Since then, however, Puspure has been showing career-best form, winning gold medals at both the 2018 and 2019 World Championships in single sculls, as well as a gold at the European Championships last year.

“I’d say a couple of weeks ago, I was really frustrated with people suggesting the Olympics should be postponed,” she tells The42. “I was like ‘no, we need to go in July, we need to be positive, it can happen.’ But then as the weeks progressed, I could just see things changing so rapidly. 

“Then you realise, no, July definitely is not enough, even though it seems far away and there is loads of time for things to improve.”

Puspure has not been entirely satisfied with her form of late, and so she acknowledges from a personal perspective, the Olympics being postponed by a year could be beneficial.

“It’s ruined the plans we had post-Olympics, but it’s a strange situation and we have to make the most of it.

“This year, I had a few things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. For next year, I get a second chance to do them better, so in that way, it could be a blessing.

At the moment, the whole team understands that the main thing is to get this virus under control and do our part in it, keeping ourselves away from the crowds, which we’re doing really well.

“We were laughing because all this not socialising and stuff is nothing different. The children are at home all day — that’s the only difference in my life. We’re quite isolated here. We’re still doing training and stuff.

“We’re doing the absolute best we can to protect the whole group from the outside. There’s very few trips and absolutely no communication. The other team members who live nearby the centre, they haven’t seen their families for a while, because they’re isolating themselves from anyone who’s outside the team. So we’re doing that really well and that’s one reason why we’re able to train. As soon as someone goes outside, they’ll be isolated and not allowed back on the team.

“So we’re being strict with the measures and it’s working well, and we’re able to train because of it.”

sanita-puspure-on-her-way-to-winning-the-a-semi-final-and-qualifying-for-the-olympic-games-in-tokyo Sanita Puspure has been able to maintain her training schedule in recent times. Source: Detlev Seyb/INPHO

All of Ireland’s top rowers train together in Cork. Because what represents quite a small team already are in close proximity on a daily basis, it is possible for them to continue and adhere to a relatively normal work week, at least, until stricter measures such as a government lockdown are imposed.

“We do staggered training times as well, we don’t just burst in at the same time, the whole group take precautions and advice from everyone. We are very lucky that we can go in two or three at a time and do our sessions. For me, there is no problem at all, I’m a single [scull], I have no one around me. And the fact that we’ve been self-isolating means there’s no logical reason why not.”

Whereas in most team sports, the people involved have had to rely primarily on individual training, the rowers are a special case.

“If, for example, the hockey team locked themselves in one house, maybe they’d be able to train together as well,” she says.

“If they had one pitch for themselves and nobody else using it, maybe that’d be a solution, but I don’t know how possible that would be. But we’re like a big family now.”

Despite their caution, Puspure says rowers have received some criticism from locals, who don’t realise they are all living together as it is.

Nonetheless, she is at pains to emphasise that they have done everything by the book.

“We’re just very touchy about the subject, because we know there have been complaints. We know we have done everything possible not to put all the other citizens in danger.

“We created a bubble to allow us to train with all the precautions and the very minimum exposure to the outside world.

“As much as we wanted everyone else in the country to be safe, we wanted ourselves to be safe from the virus [also] and we were being very careful not to catch anything, so it’d be in our biggest interests to avoid it.

It’s the locals who see the four in the water [who complain]. It’s logical. They live together. Why would they be separated in a boat? But they don’t know that, so we can’t really blame them [for complaining].

“And the general public might not understand how important it is for us, as athletes, to stay healthy. We don’t want to catch a normal head cold, never mind the coronavirus, because all the training you’ve done or the majority of it is gone and you lose so much of your form when you get sick.

“I think that’s what the general public need to understand and that we are quite successful to all intentions because [we self-isolate]. 

“We took it really seriously not to go anywhere unless necessary. No visits to the GP. No unnecessary trips to the shop. We’re doing the best we can.”

This may change soon, however, with Puspure and her colleagues starting to plan for a likely government lockdown.

“They gave us a couple of days to train when you want and what you want to digest the news that the Olympics is postponed now.

“Although we all suspected it was going to happen, the reality that it’s a bit later gives you zero motivation, because you know you won’t be racing for 16 months.

“So for a couple of days, I’m going to take it easier now

“The whole session today, I was thinking: ‘Where the hell am I going to put the [rowing equipment] in my apartment?’”

– First published 14.08, 25 March

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Paul Fennessy

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