Sometimes good things happen to good people. The joy in the stands among Ireland fans here at Racice as Katie O’Brien won gold at the World Rowing Championships was real and fantastic.
The 26-year-old Galway woman overcame challenges from the start. I dealt with spina bifida and the childhood operations that it brought; Weakness in her left leg still has.
That didn’t stop her from becoming a vet, nor did it stop her from practicing and excelling at the challenging sport of rowing.
In the PR2 singles rowing final, reigning world champion Katherine Ross of Australia, a much older woman and Paralympic champion, faced off in the PR2 mixed double.
O’Brien never beat Ross and she chose the hard way to change that: get on top and get her out of there.
The win and the gold it brought are not yet covered, she told the Irish Independent newspaper.
“But I am on top of the world. I am very happy, yes!”
The race followed the plan I set, and I won by 10 seconds. “Basically I wanted to open as much water as possible, so I could set the pace and take a step if (Ross) made a move. Cat is incredibly strong and I know that; probably stronger than me. You’re talking about a lightweight rower versus a heavyweight rower.”
“I just wanted to open as much water as possible. Just sit on it and then do whatever I have to do to defend the lead.”
When I crossed the line, what was the feeling?
She has no time to relax, as she faces a competition in the PR2 mixed doubles final on Saturday.
Some might doubt the wisdom of trying to compete in two finals in two days. But anyone who saw her doubles partner, Steve McGowan, during the race had no doubts about his enthusiasm for the project.
Sitting in his wheelchair on the bank near the finish line, he pumped his fist and screamed encouragingly. He was overjoyed at his partner’s achievement.
When she crossed the line, he told The Independent: “I’m happy for her. I wasn’t expecting anything different. I knew she’d get the gold today; no one deserves it more.”
For Katie, too, there were no qualms about needing to shift focus with such fervor.
“It’s actually pretty easy. Once I see Steve and I see (Double) it’s a completely different game.
“It’s a lot easier than you think, because it’s a new challenge every day. You just have to swap. So it’s very easy.”
This finalist will be one of six great players for Ireland’s crews at this World Championships.
Sanita Bospor and Zoe Hyde raised Ireland’s tally for the finals as they finished second behind the Dutch women’s superb duo Leyla Yosefou and Roos de Jong in the semi-finals.
These two teams were part of the top three all the way, and Ireland was content to finish second with Germany advancing to third.
The other semi-final saw Romania win in a better time than the Dutch group. It’s hard not to see these two teams vying for the gold medal in the final on Sunday (12.54 Irish time), as Ireland try to work their way into the reckoning for at least a place on the podium.
On Saturday, Paul O’Donovan and Vintan McCarthy offered to defend the lightweight doubles titles they won in 2019. Their race, at 1.23 Irish time, comes in the middle of a blitzkrieg of three finals.
The women’s lightweight doubles Ove Casey and Margaret Kremen’s Braves Lightweight finish at 1.07 while the four women, Olympic bronze medalists, compete at 1.39.
The first final of the day will be the PR2 mixed doubles race. O’Brien and McGowan carry Ireland’s hopes, and a well-placed will show the progress they have made as they look forward to the Paralympic Games in Paris.
A light couple and four will be tailored to the podium finishes.
It could be another golden day for Ireland.