Tokyo disappointments left behind, Phil Doyle is looking ahead to World Championships

The Belfast-based doctor has a new heavyweight double sculls partner in Konan Pazzaia

Such was the sense of disappointment when Phil Doyle exited the Tokyo Olympic rowing venue at Sea Forest Waterway last August, short of all ambitions in the heavyweight double sculls with partner Ronan Byrne, the future looked particularly uncertain.

Doyle was already one of the elder statesmen among the Irish crews, and with a medical career to fall back on there was plenty there to consider and to contemplate, which he most certainly did.

Only here he is back in the boat again for the first competitive time since, on the same weekend as his 30th birthday, among the 13 Irish crews taking part at the 2022 World Championships in Racice, Czech Republic.

Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy will again be the headline act as they look to defend their lightweight double sculls title last won three years ago in Austria, where Doyle won silver along with Byrne.


Things have changed for Doyle however, partnered this time around by Konan Pazzaia, the Swiss-born rower whose mother hails from Belfast. The fresh dynamic with Pazzaia has helped revive his enthusiasm, still the Olympic comedown was far from easy.

“After Tokyo, I had a serious period of reflection,” admits Doyle. “The Games didn’t go as I had expected, but that is the rough and tumble which makes elite sport exciting. Many things just didn’t come well for Ronan and I and after an initial period of grief almost, I was able to appreciate the amazing opportunities and experiences that rowing and Ronan brought to my life.

“I had decided to give a full year to my medical career, working as an SHO [senior house officer] in Altnagelvin in Derry. I absolutely loved this experience, but the pressures, and the dire outlook of the NHS going forward for junior doctors, led me to the realisation that I still had unfinished business and amazing opportunities to take in elite sport.

“I also had a pretty serious injury to my lower back which kept me out of the boat for a few months when I returned from the Olympics. This allowed me to focus on my career and slowly build myself back into a training routine, with the help of the amazing team in Sini [Sport institute NI], Kerry Kirk and Alan Rankin.

“I also rotated through general medicine and paediatrics, loved the hospital work and the new challenges it provided. I was able to train in a local fitness gym in the city keeping in touch with the team on camp and on my annual leave in Cork.”

He admits, too, the new partnership with Pazzaia was unexpected (Byrne stepping away from the sport for a while), the Swiss-born rower moving to Belfast to study biomedical sciences in Queen’s University.

“His differences with Ronan are hard to evaluate. My role has, however, changed from following Ronan as the bow man, to leading Konan as the stroke man. Ronan was a man of few words, and we had an unspoken understanding of each other. It’s refreshing but I’m sure next year we will have a fierce battle between all of us for top position, or even join together for a four-man boat of some description.

“The ambitions this year are maybe more measured, but the training we have been doing has been very positive coming into the championships. The drive and ambition are definitely there for me moving forward. The pathway isn’t as clear with many more athletes and opportunities. I am still adamant to keep contact with medicine in some format, but am excited for the months ahead leading to the Games in 2024.”

Irish in action on Sunday (Irish time)

8:30-9:19 M1x Heat: Brian Colsh (NUIG BC)

9:26-9:54 W1x Heat: Alison Bergin (Fermoy RC)

10:01-10:29 LM1x Heat: Hugh Moore (QUBBC)

10:45-11:13 LW1x Heat: Lydia Heaphy (Skibbereen RC)

11:20-11:48 LM2x Heat: Paul O’Donovan (UCC RC), Fintan McCarthy (Skibbereen RC)

12:23-12:51: M2x Heat Phil Doyle (Belfast BC), Konan Pazzaia (QUBBC)

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics