Paul O’Donovan walks away from 'single' life with gold and no regrets
Cork rower leaves rivals in his wake with powerful performance to cap magic month
Paul O’Donovan celebrates winning gold at the World Lightweight Single Sculls final in Rotterdam on Saturday. Photograph: Herman Dingler/Inpho
It was his last hurrah. Paul O’Donovan is 22, but he is already putting away one of his loves and moving forward with a bigger project. The Olympic boat, the lightweight double sculls, is the future, but first he wanted to walk away from the lightweight single with no regrets.
“I’ve been trying to win a World Championship gold medal since the World Junior Championships in 2011. I’ve had one bronze medal (2013 in the World Under-23 Championships) and three or four fourth-place finishes as well.
“I was really looking forward to the opportunity to (win gold).”
He was peerless in the final here at the World Championships in Rotterdam. Peter Galambos of Hungary and then - for a longer stretch - Rajko Hrvat of Slovenia tried to best the young Lisheen man. But O’Donovan was physically and technically stronger and by then end he was so far clear he said he enjoyed the experience. He joked about winning by clear water to live up to a promise to a mate, Diarmuid O’Driscoll. But who makes a promise - even in jest - to win a World Championship by a big margin? A man whose confidence and will to win is rock solid.
O’Donovan has quite an extraordinary mental attitude. Watching him here, it was hard not to be slightly in awe of a man who could lock fully on to race after testing race when inside him must have been a little voice singing ‘I’m an Olympic medallist - celebrate!’
Gary helped. He stayed away from his brother while he was competing. The stories of Gary’s night-time forays allowed Paul to slag him from afar, but they did not meet. You ask both if they had agreed on this and they say no. “It’d be understood, like,” says their coach, Dominic Casey.
The celebrations, which will peak with a welcome home in Skibbereen on Monday night, started here. Paul was carried around the Irish bar on the shoulders of supporters on Saturday night, but by the early hours of Sunday morning the two siblings held court, side-by-side, at the bar; brothers in arms again.
The European champions and Olympic silver medallists will go forward - each set to move on to a €40,000 grant from €12,000 they have had - to target the one crew they have not beaten as a lightweight double: the French.
Coming up behind them is enough talent to suggest that their will be healthy rivalry at the top end of the Ireland programme.
The Ireland lightweight pair of Shane O’Driscoll (23) and Mark O’Donovan (27) have been climbing the ladder. At last year’s World Championships they finished seventh, winning the B Final. This time out, they fell just short of a medal, pushing hard but not quite reaching the standard of the Britain bronze-medal crew, Coleraine’s Joel Cassells and Sam Scrimgeour.
These Championships melded the senior non-Olympic events (the men’s coxed pair and lightweight pair, the women’s four and the men’s and women’s quadruple and single sculls) on to the big World Junior and World Under-23 regattas. Rather like the city of Rotterdam, with its old and new buildings arrayed in unlikely symmetry, it might not have worked, but it did.
For adult rowers trying to push into the Olympic programme it gave a solid platform. Holly Nixon, who took silver for Ireland in the 2011 Junior Championships, won gold in the Britain senior women’s four. The Fermanagh woman broke down after receiving her medal. Her grandfather, Mervyn Dane, the former editor of the Impartial Reporter, died earlier this month.
On the Sunday, which started with a spectacular thunder and lightning storm and carried on in a welter of wind, more young Irish talent made their case.
Daire Lynch and Ronan Byrne finished second in the B Final of the junior double sculls, placing eighth in the world. The two had been disappointed not to break into the A Final in the headwind conditions on Saturday. The coopted the powerful tailwind on Sunday and excelled, coming from the back of the field to charge past the Netherlands and Canada and threaten South Africa, who won.
This was the first international regatta for Lynch, but he said the crew raced with one thing on their minds. “We said we’d give it everything. It was our last race as juniors.” The talented Clonmel man, who sets aside two hours for training on the ergometer each morning, has a future but has still to decide whether as a lightweight or heavyweight. He is lean, and leaning towards lightweight rowing.
He will not lack an outstanding Irish role model.