Olympic Gold medalist Paul O’Donovan has said he and his rowing partner Fintan McCarthy are “just here trying to be the best we can be”.
The Skibbereen pair have become the first Irish rowers in history to claim a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
The young men were rowing from lane three in the final of the lightweight double sculls and pushed Germany into second place over the 2000m course at the Sea Forest waterway at Tokyo harbour on Thursday morning.
O’Donovan, already a four-time world champion and Rio 2016 silver medalist, said “the race plan we had, we do it all the time and it seems to work out okay for us.”
"We kind of know that Italy and Germany always go hard, you can count on that. Then they slow down a bit. Once we were catching up to them then, we knew that we were at a sustainable pace and kept going. Germany made it hard for us, that's for sure," he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland on Thursday.
“I don’t really think about medals at all. We are just here trying to be the best we can be and hopefully, that will be the best of that for the rest of them. Today it was. We are pleased with it.”
He added: “You don’t really take in the history of the moment. You’d be well tired after the race.”
McCarthy, also a world champion, said “it is bizarre, I have been pretty chilled out all day”.
“Usually, I would be a bit more nervous. I felt really prepared and you know how that expectation and stuff doesn’t really weigh too heavily on us. We just do what we always do, as best we can and it worked,” he said.
McCarthy’s family said they are planning to decorate their home and bake Fintan an Olympic cake to celebrate his return with a gold medal.
Speaking from their home in Skibbereen, McCarthy’s father Tom said the win was overwhelming and that he was “absolutely delighted” as the rowers had worked so hard.
“It’s amazing,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. The proud father said he had “an intuitive feeling” that the rowers would do well.
McCarthy’s mother Sue said the win was “absolutely incredible.” There were no words to describe what she was feeling, she said. “Pride doesn’t cover it...We hoped beyond hope.”
The rowers had worked so hard and had been favourites going into the race, it seemed like no one could take them, she said. “We hoped that would be the case,” Ms McCarthy added.
Her son had set his sights on this goal a long time ago “and he did it.”
“He is totally inspiring,” added his father.
Sister Caitlyn said that when they were children Fintan “was never the sporty type” but when he started rowing “he put his mind to it.”
“I’m very proud of him,” she said. She said that her phone was “hopping all the time” with congratulatory messages. “It’s been insane.”
Fintan’s twin Jake, who is also a rower, recalled watching the Rio Olympics with his brother at which time “a seed of belief was planted in his heart.” Fintan worked “day in, day out” to achieve his goal, he said. Once he overcomes an injury, Jake is hoping that he too can achieve a medal.
Violet Hayes, the Chairperson of Skibbereen rowing club, said a number of members had stayed up all night to watch the race, with their "hearts in our mouths".
“We’re all smiling,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
When asked if she had expected the rowers to take gold, Ms Hayes said she did not relax until the “boat hit the line.”
“The shouts could be heard, if not in Dublin, at least in Cork,” she said.
The rowing club, which is 51 years old, was where both rowers started their Olympic journey, she said.
They had shown great tenacity and a determination to be the best which came from the club’s “great sense of place and pride.”
President Michael D Higgins has also congratulated the Cork pair, and said "theirs is a tremendous achievement, which gives great inspiration to young people and aspiring athletes all over Ireland".
“After the magnificent success in women’s rowing yesterday, today we celebrate Ireland’s first Olympic gold medal in rowing, won so deservedly by Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy in the lightweight double sculls,” President Higgins said.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was “a special day for Irish rowing and the Irish people”.
"An outstanding gold medal for Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy. Breathtaking victory in the lightweight double sculls – a race that will live long in history," Mr Martin said on Twitter.