O’Donovan and McCarthy: bigger biceps, stronger quads, better still to come

Another gold medal in the bag, and the Irish lightweight double are already thinking Paris 2024

One of these years when they lose a race that will be a different story. Fear not of this story changing anytime soon, Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy asking not what it takes to still succeed, but what it takes to succeed better.

Once again the undisputed champions of the world, their latest gold medal won on the calm waters of Račice on the outskirts of Prague with sweet familiarity: not just the best lightweight double sculls of their time, unquestionably now among the best of all time.

“I think last year we were focusing a lot on the biceps, it seems to be getting there,” McCarthy said, when asked to pinpoint some of the improvements this year.

“Yeah, get more out of the biceps,” added O’Donovan, “then work on the hamstrings and quads a little bit later on in the Olympic cycle. Keep the maintenance in the biceps, and then work a bit between the two. I think if people are not afraid now they’ll be pretty afraid when they see our biceps to come. They’re going to be impressive.”


They can play the mischievous part all they want because there will always be a serious side too, especially to their rivals. O’Donovan is now a five-time World champion, and since partnering with McCarthy in 2019 the Skibbereen duo have won World, European and Olympics titles all while pulling away.

Which made Saturday’s performance ever more daunting for potential contenders to those titles; nearest rivals Italy, second again here as in the European Championships six weeks ago, aren’t getting any nearer, others, such as the hopeful young Swiss crew, falling further behind again.

Together O’Donovan and McCarthy helped bring Ireland’s medal tally to four, including two gold, seventh best overall among the 63 competing nations after eight days of hard racing. Still, everything about their trajectory and their own ambitions suggests they’ll be our standout gold medal favourites come the Paris Olympics, now just 22 months away.

After returning to his medical studies in UCC post-Tokyo, O’Donovan has been away from the Rowing Ireland training centre for large parts of the season: as with those European Championships in Munich he only reunited with McCarthy late on, arriving in Račice last Friday week, straight from his studies in UCC, before last Sunday’s opening heat. Which they still won pulling away.

“Regardless of the medal, the trust we had in each other to prepare the way we did is going to stand to us for the next few years – it stood to us this year as well,” said McCarthy, at 25 only coming into his prime.

“I think the trust in our coach (Dominic Casey) and our programme as well, without that we wouldn’t have been as confident to come here without our usual time together. So I’m really proud with how we approached it.”

Aged 28 O’Donovan is now the most decorated of any Irish sportsperson; Olympic gold and silver, five World Championship titles, three European Championship gold and two silver, not that he’s ever been counting.

“It feels fine, much like any other day really, nice for a while to get on the podium and hear the National Anthem, but all days are good days. We trained pretty hard, our technique is maybe improving a little bit too, which we need. So I think in time, hopefully, we’ll have the perfect stroke and all the fitness – then we’ll be really fast.”

All of which suggests they won’t be losing that race anytime soon.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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