Galway rower breaks world record in lockdown challenge

Aifric Keogh (right) with former partner Emily Hegarty when they finished first in the Women's Pair semi-final race at the World Rowing Championships.  
Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Aifric Keogh (right) with former partner Emily Hegarty when they finished first in the Women's Pair semi-final race at the World Rowing Championships. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Galway has a new world record holder in rower Aifric Keogh, who claimed the fastest marathon distance at the weekend.

Keogh and fellow high-performance rower Sanita Puspure broke world records in their respective categories that previously had been held by USA athletes.

The world records were secured during a virtual regatta sponsored by Kinetica - Aifric achieving the fastest time in her age category 19-29. Rowing on a Concept2 ergometer on the patio at her parents' home in Furbo, she completed the distance in one hour, 18 minutes, and 59.9 seconds.

The 27-years-old former Bish and NUIG rower returned to Galway when lockdown measures were introduced, leaving Cork where she is based along with a number of high performance rowers aiming to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo, which have been postponed to next year.

As a result the weekend's world record was a challenging addition to the training regime which Keogh continues at home with parents Jim and Susan during the Covid-19 lockdown.

"I didn't set out to break it to be honest," she says. "Over the last two years the half-marathon and marathon have become almost novelty events. Running a marathon is traditionally a huge feat for someone to achieve so, for variety, people have been trying different distances to test themselves.

"We would cover that distance easily in a training session, but would never challenge ourselves to do it in one go and as quick as possible. However, since lockdown rowers have been trying to challenge themselves in different ways to break this up."

Some 2,700 rowers throughout Ireland took part in the virtual regatta with nine records broken in both full and half marathons - Keogh and Puspure the two who set new world record times.

Keogh, however, is not taking the feat too seriously.

"The record has been broken twice since lockdown. I saw on Twitter an Aussie girl did it by accident, and last week the entire US girls' team did it as a training session and it was broken again that day. Six days later we decided as a group to do it as a training session, so by the end of next week it could be broken again."

Setback

However, it has been a real boost for the Galwegian who has endured some tough challenges in her bid to qualify for the Olympics. After Keogh and former partner Emily Hegarty made history by becoming the first Irish female pair to qualify for a world final two years ago, the future was looking bright.

However Keogh suffered a pulmonary effusion, forcing her out of action for three months.

"It was quite devastating to have a setback for three months in what was Olympic qualifying year. As a result I was taken out and the teams had to be reshuffled."

Later she slotted into a development boat with three from the U23 championships - "a chance to get some racing in having missed three months."

The Irish pair qualified for the Olympics, while the four made it to the final, and with two slots up for grabs, and ranked No 2, there were expectations they would qualify. However, weather conditions played a part as they ended in one of two unfavourable lanes. Both Ireland and favourites China failed to qualify and racing was suspended after their event.

"It was too late for us though, our race was over and we had missed our chance."

However, with a remaining qualifying regatta due to be held,the team of 10 were based in Northern Italy.

"Things were shaping up quite well. We had a very strong group, all determined after the disappointment of the four."

That training camp concluded at the end of February, just as coronavirus was taking off in Italy.

"We were keeping on eye on the news and had an idea something was coming, so it was very difficult training, not knowing whether you were going to get to race or the Olympics were even going ahead.

"I have been training for this my whole life, and mentally I had four or five months of hard training. We had been gearing up for that for so long. You train with such intensity, so it is hard to get the head around."

This is the longest time Keogh has spent in Furbo since moving to Cork after four years at NUIG studying microbiology. Her move south enabled her to train full time with the high performance team, while "studying on the side". After finishing a Master's, she was "lucky" to get a job at UCC for three years before her performances were rewarded when she joined the high performance programme, which is funded by Sport Ireland.

Pick me up

Here she enjoys the company of two-times world champion single sculler Sanita Puspure, the two helping to push each other.

"We do sessions on the machines alongside each other - 99 per cent of the time she beats me, and the odd time, I might catch her."

The two rowers were on Zoom with their coaches during the recent virtual regatta, although neither knew how the other was performing until the end.

"Sanita and I had spoken before the event and we were both scared how long it was going to take, so thought we would do it at a steady pace. However, I realised shortly after I started, that I may as well give it a go, and do it properly. Coming into the last 200m, the last minute of the hour and 18 minutes, and I heard the coach say 'well done Sanita'. My brain was a little fried at the time before I realised we were in different categories, which meant we both set new records."

Now home for six weeks - the longest she has lived with her parents in six years - Keogh awaits news of a return to Cork.

"We are still doing pretty much our programme training at home by ourselves which is pretty draining, so the record was a real pick-me-up and it was nice to have that excitement.

"We are hoping in the next three weeks to be back training, but it will be limited. We will be in individual boats, but at least it will mean getting out on the water again."

 

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