Gary O'Donovan on that winning feeling: ‘We learned it was possible and gave others belief too’

Irish rower is battling with his brother to secure his spot at the Tokyo Olympics
Gary O'Donovan on that winning feeling: ‘We learned it was possible and gave others belief too’

Gary O'Donovan of Ireland in action during the Lightweight Men's Single Sculls heat of the 2019 World Rowing Championships. Picture: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

IT’S a lovely, sunny day in Cork and Gary O’Donovan fully intends to make the most of it.

“I can’t complain, the sun is shining so it will be nice to go out on the lake now for the evening, do some rowing with the skin out and hopefully get a bit of a colour,” he says.

You wouldn’t know it from his relaxed mood but the Irish rower is currently involved in an intense competition to seal his place in the boat at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

There are just two seats available and at the moment it is effectively Gary, his younger brother Paul and the McCarthy twins, Fintan and Jake, who also hail from Skibbereen, fighting it out.

A small indication of the level of talent in the county.

“We did a race in Cork a few weeks ago and let me tell you now, we had a six-boat race and there were three world champions and two world silver medalists involved in the race,” says O’Donovan.

“It was as good as any race you would get internationally. We don’t have to go abroad to compete at an international event because we have got such a good standard here.”

The training at the moment is currently a mix of long steady rows, sharper and shorter rows as well as a few gym sessions each week.

O’Donovan is currently preparing for the European Championships in Italy in April but it is the time trials at the end of March which could all but decide if he will make the boat for the Olympic Games.

His brother Paul, often regarded as one of the best in the world, spoke recently about how tough it will be for him to make it which Gary believes speaks volumes.

“We will go out, race against each other, and the best men will win basically,” he said. “He [Paul] is good but he should make it, hopefully. He seems to be a bit better than us but the gap is closing.

“That is probably for a number of reasons.

“One is that he was so good that it’s hard to get much better whereas the rest of us have that little bit more room to gain on him. It is more competitive now than it ever has been.

“If you came in two years ago you would think Paul will definitely be in the boat, that’s a given.

“But now… We were in the rowing centre the other day, Paul was saying himself that he will have to be in his best form at the trial whereas before he probably would’ve made the boat on a bad day.

“Now he has to make sure he can peak and be ready to go to stay ahead of the rest of us.

“I will try my best and I’m training hard so I do have a chance. In saying that we all have a chance, we’re all around the same speed.

“I’m very hopeful, I wouldn’t be bothered doing this if I didn’t think I had a chance!”

Olympic silver medalist and world champion rower Gary O'Donovan and owner of Velo Coffee Rob Horgan.
Olympic silver medalist and world champion rower Gary O'Donovan and owner of Velo Coffee Rob Horgan.

The duo made an enormous impression together at the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Their charm won the hearts of people across the world but more importantly, their talent won them a silver medal in the lightweight double sculls, finishing just behind France.

That success has seemed to have already inspired the next generation of rowers in Cork and O’Donovan, who was himself inspired by Skibbereen’s Eugene Coakley and Tim Harnedy, is hopeful it will lead to more medals in the future, potentially continuing with Tokyo this summer.

“Each year it’s growing,” he says.

“Rio probably had a lot to do with that, it gave people more belief and they got more inquisitive as well. 

They saw Irish rowing athletes can win medals at the Olympics and wanted to be part of it.

“Before we got that Olympic medal we didn’t know if we could or not. We were hopeful and we were trying our best, we were doing everything we could but we didn’t know.

“When we got it we were like ‘wow, we can win Olympic medals and there’s more of them to be got.’ We half inspired ourselves because we learned it was possible and hopefully that gave other athletes belief.

“There’s probably athletes out there that if they are like me when I was a kid, they’d be amazed at my results and that will inspire them to do well in the future.

“Hopefully we will see successful Irish athletes in the years to come because of it.”

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