Jennings (38) finds own way to Rio Olympics despite funding cut and bad luck

Posted on: September 5th, 2015

Sinead Jennings, leading, saw her Olympic dream go up in smoke when the team pursuit funding was stopped and bad luck hit her independent effort to get to London. But she will be in Rio; in a boat rather than on a bike.


Having won a world title in rowing just two years after taking up that sport, Sinead Jennings switched to cycling in the hope she would make the London Olympics as part of the team pursuit squad on the track.

But when that bid failed, she drifted away from bike racing and returned to the boat in 2013.

And the 38-year-old doctor has this afternoon realised her Olympic dream after all when she reached the qualification criteria for Rio next year in the lightweight doubles with her performance at the World Championships in France.

Competing with Claire Lambe, Jennings needed to finish in the top 11 in the world, or take 5th place or higher in the B final of their race.

They managed 3rd and so are now Rio bound next year for the Olympics.

She had narrowly missed out on qualification for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when paired with Heather McNulty, who is now well known in cycling circles as a rider and staff member at Cycling Ireland.

Jennings cycled competitively from 2008 to 2011 and was part of the women’s team pursuit line-up with Caroline Ryan and Ciara Horne.

They were in a scrap for the final places in London but at the World Cup in Astana in November 2011 when they needed to seal their place in at the Games the following year their effort came badly unstuck.

They false started and were allow to go again, as per international track rules which allow two starts.

However, around 1km into their 3km event a puncture forced them to a stop.

And because they had already used their second start they were out of the race and out of time to qualify for London.

They were riding the World Cup meeting – one of four Olympic qualifying World Cup events in the lead-up to the London games – for their trade team Cunga Bikes rather than for the Ireland squad.

Their funding had been cut by Cycling Ireland after the Irish Sports Council cut the Cycling Ireland high performance grants.

The three women decided to continue independently with their bid to qualify for London.

But when they came up short, Jennings then ceased racing. Horne decided to declare for Great Britain again, citing a lack of funding, and has since been very successful at major championships.

Jennings, who is a mother of three young children and is married to one of Ireland’s best ever rowers Sam Lynch, was tempted back into the boat when Rowing Ireland approached her in 2013.

She gave birth to one of her children in the two-year break between her cycling stop and rowing comeback, despite working huge hours as a doctor of up to 100 hours a week at times.

She used her maternity leave to get into shape for another assault on international rowing, and the work she has done since then has now been rewarded with Olympic qualification.