Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll take European gold
Gary and Paul O’Donovan dig in to secure silver with Denise Walsh also on podium
Mark O’Donovan (L) and Shane O’Driscoll on the podium after their European success. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA
Ireland’s Paul and Gary O’Donovan produced a thrilling final sprint to edge out Poland and Italy and take silver in the final of the lightweight double sculls on a thrilling morning for Ireland rowing - and Irish sport.
The Ireland lightweight pair of Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll earlier became European champions with a superb display and lightweight single sculler Denise Walsh followed up quickly with a silver medal.
The amount of pressure on the O’Donovan brothers to produce - the RTE cameras had tracked their struggles here - was immense. It built even more in this final when the one major crew they have never beaten, Olympic champions France, bossed the race in the early stages. Italy and then Poland were, seemingly, the main challengers, with Ireland in fifth through 500 metres and 1,000 metres - the halfway point.
But, as ever, never write off the two Skibbereen men. They built steadily: first Britain fell, then the race became a battle for medals between Italy, Poland and Ireland, with France staying clear of the fray. So tight was the finish, that Paul and Gary said they did not know whether they had taken silver or bronze. It was, of course, silver - just three tenths of a second ahead of Italy, and just 2.39 seconds behind France. A repeat of the Olympic final. There is the prospect of some good battles between these crews in the years ahead.
Last year, the O’Donovans became the first Ireland crew to become champions of Europe. In 2017, Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan were dominant in their lightweight pairs final, building a small lead at 500 metres into an unassailable margin. Russia did close at the finish, but the Skibbereen men were already on their way to a deserved gold.
Walsh’s silver came after another exciting finish. Emma Fredh of Sweden held on to take gold, while Walsh and Patricia Merz charged for the line, with Walsh winning the battle.