Back in 2020 Fiona Murtagh and her crew made history by coming home with the bronze medal in the coxless four at the Tokyo Olympics. With Paris 2024 just around the corner, she is determined to make sure she’s in with a chance of coming away with even more Olympic glory.
The Moycullen woman first started rowing back in 2009 after being introduced to the sport by her twin brother Alan who takes pride in the fact, if it hadn’t been for him, there wouldn’t be a bronze medal in the Murtagh household.
Murtagh says she was a “lazy child” before rowing and that her parents didn’t think she would keep up the sport when she started.
She says: “My parents didn’t think I’d last, they thought I’d get my first blister and quit. But here I am 14 years later”.
Murtagh received a rowing scholarship to Fordham University in the United States at the age of 18 where she committed herself to the sport even further. On returning from the states Murtagh says she felt her love for rowing had disappeared.
She considered giving up competitive rowing, which she believed to have come from a lack of self-belief and fear of the unknown.
But after joining the University team, things changed.
Murtagh says: “The college gave me the much-needed kick out the door to put my name in the hat for that competitive four-team”.
She took a leap of faith to commit full-time to rowing by joining the Irish camp, where she trained hard enough to put herself in the running to represent Ireland at the last-chance regatta, grasping one of the three spots available to qualify for the Olympics.
In the Olympic final the crew made of Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Emily Hegarty and Murtagh finished third to a strong Australian and Dutch crew who were front runners of the race. Following a poor start the team stayed confident in each other, calling their sprint early to surpass Team Great Britain and claim the bronze medal.
For Murtagh, it was the mental resilience and shared mindset between the team that allowed them to give each race their all and it might even be their secret to success.
She says: “For us, it was all about being relaxed and having a bit of fun with it. There wasn’t any extra pressure, it didn’t feel like anything different it felt like it was just another race”.
The fact that there were no spectators played to their advantage, having raced with no spectators all season this race wasn’t going to be anything out of the ordinary.
Due to Covid-19, the team had a very different Olympic experience with no spectators, family or friends allowed to go along to support them. The team was everything to the Moycullen native, with her favourite moment coming on the podium when she presented her teammate Emily Hegarty with her medal.
Life since Tokyo
In the post-Olympic year, many of the athletes took a step back from rowing to focus on the other aspects of their busy lives. For Murtagh, this meant diving into her Master’s in Business Administration at the University of Galway
With Paris 2024 on the horizon focus returns to rowing. Murtagh will be looking to bag herself a seat in the boat to represent Ireland at the world championships. In their attempts to qualify for Paris the following year, the group are looking to find the best combinations to qualify.
She says: “This year being the qualification year there’s a new sense of priority back on rowing as well as a new sense of competitiveness and intensity”.