It was this time last year that Sanita Puspure’s husband Kaspar likened her to a fine wine – “getting old and getting better” – when at 36 she won gold in the single sculls at the World Championships in Bulgaria. Until that day she had experienced nothing but frustration when representing Ireland in the event, having no medals to show for her efforts, twice suffering the agony of finishing fourth.
“Finally,” she said, “my first medal and it is gold! I’m so used to being disappointed after racing, so this is very new to me.”
It would appear that Puspure has cracked the code, and that winning has become a habit, the rower successfully defending her gold medal at the 2019 World Championships in Austria.
She could have helped herself to either our August or September Sportswoman of the Month awards thanks to her outstanding form over the final days of August and the first day of September at the Championships.
Her powerful performance in the semi-finals sealed her qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games, Puspure coming from behind to win by more than four seconds over a field that included former world champion Emma Twigg of New Zealand.
She had to come from behind too in the final, trailing Twigg and Olympic silver medallist Vicky Thornley of Britain. She overtook Thornley, but with just 500m to go Twigg still led, at which point Puspure shifted up a gear or two, chasing Twigg down, overtaking her and retaining her gold with a clear-water win.
The victory was impressive enough, but considering the ordeal she had been through earlier in the summer it was all the more admirable, Puspure having been out of action for a spell while she returned to her native Latvia to be with her sister Inese in the final stages of her battle with cancer.
Because of that ordeal, she told RTÉ, “this medal has very high value – we just needed something nice to happen,” she said, “I hope my sister is proud of me, watching from above.”
She would, no doubt, be proud too that Puspure has qualified for her third Olympic Games, the advantage this time around that she has done it well in advance, unlike the last two occasions when she only sealed qualification in May before competing in July. Now she has given herself 10 months to prepare for Tokyo, where, having cracked that medal-winning code, she will have her sights set on the ultimate prize.
Previous monthly winners (awards run from December 2018 to November 2019, inclusive):
December: Mona McSharry (swimming). The Sligo swimmer ended her 2018 in some style at the Irish Short-Course Championships in Lisburn, collecting six titles in the space of just three days as well as breaking six national records. The highlight for McSharry was the breaking of Michelle Smith’s 23-year-old 100m freestyle record. And she is carried on breaking records since, the latest the Irish 50m fly mark which she broke at May’s Glasgow International Swim Meet.
January: Phil Healy (athletics). The 24-year-old Cork woman took our January award for the second year running after an impressive start to the season, once again winning the 400m at the Vienna International Indoor Meet ahead of European and World medallists Lissane De Whitte and Eilidh Doyle. She is back in action after breaking her foot in April, retaining her 200m national title last month.
February: Ciara Mageean (athletics). Another runner to have a sparkling start to 2019, Mageean opening the year by setting a new Irish indoor mile record in Boston, taking two seconds off her Irish indoor 1,500m record before winning bronze in the 1,500m at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow. She is in fine form ahead of September’s World Championships, knocking three seconds off her personal best for the mile at Monaco Diamond League last month.
March: Rachael Blackmore (horse racing). The Tipperary woman pushed Paul Townend all the way in the race to become Irish champion jockey, having the season of her life, finishing up on 91 winners. There were few better days, though, than when she picked up two Cheltenham successes, including the first Grade One victory of her career.
April: Leona Maguire (golf). After seven tournaments, all of her top 10 rivals having played one to three more, Maguire tops the rankings on the Symetra Tour, putting her on track for qualification for next season’s LPGA Tour. The highlight of her year so far was her victory at the Windsor Golf Classic in California, her first ever professional triumph.
May: Jenny Egan (canoeing). Having enjoyed an outstanding 2018, the 32-year-old member of the Salmon Leap club in Leixlip carried her form into 2019, most notably in Poznan and Duisburg where in the space of a week she won two World Cup medals, missing out on gold in Poland by less than a second before taking bronze in Germany in another tight finish.
June: Katie Taylor (boxing). Our four-time Sportswoman of the Year achieved the goal she set for herself when she entered the professional ranks, unifying the lightweight division with her victory over Delfine Persoon in Madison Square Garden. Taylor described her collection of every belt available to her as an even more satisfying achievement than winning gold at the 2012 Olympic Games.
July: Kate O’Connor (athletics) and Rhasidat Adeleke (athletics). When she won silver in the heptathlon at the European Under-20 Championships, 18-year-old Dundalk native O’Connor became the first Irish woman to medal at any level in the event. Adeleke, meanwhile, added to her collection of honours at the European Youth Olympic Festival, the Tallaght AC sprinter, who has turned 17 since, winning gold in the 100m and 200m.