Moments of the year: Lightweight pair now heavy hitters in world rowing
Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll capped off a stellar year with world title
Ireland’s Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll celebrate winning gold at the World Rowing Championships in Florida in September. Photograph: Detlev Seyb/Inpho
Two Ireland crews won gold medals at the World Championships in Florida. Paul O’Donovan, robbed of the chance to compete in the lightweight double because of the illness of his brother and crewmate Gary, reprised his win of 2016 in the lightweight single sculls. But the rowing moment of the year was the win by Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll in the lightweight pair.
The Skibbereen men finished fourth at the World Championships in 2016. O’Donovan, who turned 28 that year, had been campaigning a long time with little to show for it. From this low point came the determination to make 2017 special. The two men bent their wills completely to it, undertaking the huge volume of training set by coach Dominic Casey.
The first World Cup, in Belgrade, saw the unveiling of a the new, improved, Ireland lightweight pair. And they won. Britain’s Joel Cassells and Sam Scrimgeour, world champions in 2015 and bronze medallists in 2016, could not live with the pace and stunning stroke rate of O’Driscoll and O’Donovan – they started at 50 strokes per minute and never fell below 40.
If Cassells and Scrimgeour thought this was a freak result they were wrong. The season unfolded as a series of triumphs for O’Driscoll and O’Donovan. Two more World Cup golds in Poznan and Lucerne; a European Championships win. And all the time, the two men spoke of what drove them: the determination to have no more fourth-place finishes, no more what-might-have-beens.
“We’ve been training and racing so many years, it’s about time, really,” Mark told The Irish Times in Poznan. When their winning run might have sated them, they stoked their hunger. “You have to go out with a bit of fear. You have to respect your competitors,” O’Donovan said.
By the time they got to the World Championships in Florida they were one of the stories of the event. The all-conquering Irish crew with the high stroke rate. But they still had to do the business. By now Italy had become their main rivals. Britain set the early pace, but faded back. They would finish fourth.
O’Donovan and O’Driscoll punched in the effort from early on, starting at 56 strokes per minute and never dropping below 44. They won. As they had in every regatta of the year. “It’s been a really long journey to get here so we are absolutely delighted to be able to take the win,” O’Donovan said.
The lean years were over.
The decision of the world governing body, Fisa, to remove the lightweight four from the Olympic programme. This boat had represented Ireland more times at the Games than any other.
Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll might have targeted the lightweight four in Tokyo. Instead they have opted to go heayvweight.