They call it the lightweight double sculls only Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy may as well be in a class of their own, the Skibbereen duo winning another gold medal on the water in Munich here on Sunday with a truly remarkable display of dominance.
In defending their European title, adding another gold medal to their World and Olympic titles, they seemingly toyed with the other five boats, allowing a young Swiss crew to take an early lead, while the Italians initially gave chase.
At the halfway 1,000-metre mark O’Donovan and McCarthy moved into second, still utterly unbothered by the Swiss crew who were clearly giving their all.
Only with 500m remaining did the Irish hit the front, a half-boat length clear swiftly becoming a full boat-length and they won by 3.68 seconds, the Italian pair Pietro Ruta and Stefano Oppo coming through to take second, the Swiss crew Jan Schaeuble and 21 yea-old Raphael Ireland hanging on for third, almost falling out of the boat at the end such was their effort.
The Irish clocked 6:34.74, a reflection of the stiff headwind: remember in Tokyo they set a world best time of 6:05:33 while winning their semi-final.
Now 28, O’Donovan further extends his status one of the most decorated sportsman in Irish sporting history: Olympic gold and Olympic silver, four World Championship titles, now three European Championship golds and two silver, and not forgetting the Henley regatta he won with McCarthy not long after Tokyo, a prize he jested was possibly the bigger deal anyway.
“I don’t think you’re ever comfortable, really, in a race like that,” explained O’Donovan. “You’re on the edge, hanging on. We were still working hard. Maybe it looked like we gave a big dig at the end, but we were digging and maintaining speed and the others were falling off a bit but Fintan has been going really well all year. He stepped up again this year and I could feel that behind me, he was driving things along and it made a big difference.
“Fintan said something around 500m in and we kind of gathered it together and steadied the ship and it was moving well from there on out until we got home. There’s no need to say much, we know what the story is. You can feel what the other person is doing, so it’s grand.”
McCarthy said the duo were not distracted by their rivals’ strong start: “I don’t know about other crews, to be honest. We just focus on ourselves and see what happens. I think we just kept a consistent pace the whole way through to the end which I guess the other crews didn’t. We pushed it on in the last 500m then, and it all came good.
“I’ve had a good year. It worked very well. I pushed on a bit and Paul is obviously phenomenal, and we’re getting better individually and then that makes the double better.”
It was so near for another Irish medal in the next race, the women’s lightweight double sculls, where Lydia Heaphy and Margaret Cremen held a medal winning position until the last 200m.
Victory there went to the British pair of Imogen Grant and Emily Craig, who just missed out on an Olympic medal in Tokyo, with Claire Bové and Laura Tarantola of France holding on for silver before the reigning Olympic champions of Italy snatched the bronze ahead of Ireland. They were just 0.64 of a second short.
Earlier in the women’s single sculls A final, Aoife Casey also finished fourth, just under two seconds away from third, Ionela Cozmiuc from Romania winning gold.
There was also a fourth-place finish in the Para mixed double sculls final for Steven McGovern and Katie O’Brien, 20 seconds down on the winners. That race produced one of the most emotional victories of the day as the Ukrainian crew of Laroslav Koiuda and Svitlana Bohuslavska won a first gold medal for Ukraine at these championships.