Gold for Ireland! Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan row to famous win at Tokyo 2020

Irish obliterate field and hold off Germany to top podium in the lightweight double sculls

Cork’s Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy became the first Irish rowers in history to claim a gold medal at the Olympic Games.

The Skibbereen pair, rowing from lane three in the final of the lightweight double sculls, beat Germany into second place over the 2000m course at the Sea Forest waterway at Tokyo harbour.

Hot favourites after a world best time in the semi-final the two have been unbeatable all season and were highly fancied for the gold medal.

Again they stuck to the plan that has served them so well throughout the first week of the Olympics. A steady start with a burst of acceleration between 500m and 1000m and a sustained high tempo finish was a formula that the pushing German pair just could not match.


O’Donovan, already a four-times World Champion and Rio 2016 silver medallist and McCarthy, also a world champion, were in third place as the boats took off over the first 100m with the Germans opting for a quick early run. By 500m Ireland were 1.40 seconds behind but comfortable and not in any way panicked.

O’Donovan and McCarthy made their move between 500m and 1000m and at the halfway stage were just 0.62 seconds behind the German boat.

They finally took the lead at the four-minute mark just before the 1500m markers. While Germany tried hard to hold position, Ireland took the lead in the final stretch and did not give it up crossing the finish line in 6:06.43, Germany 0.86 seconds behind in second place.

It is the second Irish rowing medal of what is proving to be a hugely successful Tokyo Olympics for the rowers with the women’s four also winning an earlier bronze medal.

Talking about winning at his sport’s biggest event, O’Donovan typically played it down.

“I suppose it’s fine. We are just trying to do the best we can and hopefully be the best of the rest of them. That’s the race plan we had, we do it all the time and it seems to work okay for us. Italy and Germany always go hard, you can count on that, and then slow down a bit.

“Once we were catching up to them we knew we were at a sustainable pace and kept going. Winning today and a silver medal last time, I’ll be a bit happier about that. The silver medal is nice but Fintan did the right job and we went straight to the top at his first Games.”

McCarthy added: “I’ve been chilled out, usually I’d be a bit more nervous but felt really prepared. The expectation doesn’t weigh too heavily on us, we do what we always do — the best we can.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times