European Rowing Championships: Paul O’Donovan progresses to repechage

Jake McCarthy progresses straight to the final of the lightweight men’s singles after winning his heat

It was by Paul O’Donovan’s own admission a testing change of the waters, the Skibbereen rower mixing it up with the heavyweights for the first time in the men’s single sculls on day one of the European Rowing Championships in Szeged, Hungary.

O’Donovan had originally entered both the men’s single sculls and the lightweight doubles, along with fellow Skibbereen rower Fintan McCarthy, but after failing to sufficiently recover full fitness after a recent illness, McCarthy withdrew earlier this week.

So his focus instead was entirely on the men’s singles, the first time O’Donovan has raced at these championships not as a lightweight but with the so-called heavyweights, and a sign perhaps of things to come. O’Donovan, who turned 30 last Friday, has already made that point clear.

Rowing in the last of the four heats, O’Donovan finished third, with that earning his place in Friday’s repechage (10.40) and the chance for another test of those same waters.


Denmark’s Sverri Nielson took the win in 6:53:48, with Yanheni Zalaty from Belarus, competing under the neutral flag, second in 6:54:07. Then came O’Donovan in 6:58:07, always safe in third.

It will be a hard task to progress further, the event including reigning World champion Oliver Zeidler from Germany, Greece’s Olympic champion Stefanos Ntouskos, and Tokyo bronze medallist Damir Martin from Croatia.

For the past eight years now, O’Donovan has been the best lightweight rower in the world, winning 13 championship medals, including 10 gold, between the single and double sculls. But with the lightweight crews (with a maximum individual weight of 72.5kg) no longer part of the Olympic programme after this summer’s Paris Games, he’s already looking towards the heavyweights.

Jake McCarthy, twin brother of Fintan, progressed straight to the final of the lightweight men’s singles after winning his heat.

In the women’s double, Alison Bergin (Fermoy) and Zoe Hyde (Tralee) finished second in their heat, and will also go in the repechage on Friday morning (10.03)

Margaret Cremen (UCC) was also in the lightweight women’s single, and finished in second place in her preliminary race, with only the winner there progressing to the final.

These European Championships don’t offer the chance for any further Irish crews to secure Paris qualification. That chance is only for countries which so far have zero or one boat qualified for Paris. Rowing Ireland have already qualified six boats, with the last chance to qualify further boats coming at the Lucerne regatta on May 19th-21st.

Ireland qualified those six boats for Paris at the World Championships in Belgrade last September: the men’s and women’s pair, men’s and women’s double sculls, and men’s and women’s lightweight double sculls.

This event takes none of O’Donovan’s focus off the lightweight doubles in Paris either, where he will look to become the first Irish athlete in any sport to win a medal in three successive Olympics, after his silver in Rio (with older brother Gary), and gold in Tokyo (with McCarthy).

Fellow Cork doctor Pat O’Callaghan won two, gold in the hammer in 1928 and 1932, before boxer Paddy Barnes won successive bronze in 2008 and in 2012.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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