Ireland’s gold medal rowers return to heroes’ welcome at Olympic Village

Paul O’Donovan's mother Trish has told of her frustration at watching the medal-winning performance on television
Ireland’s gold medal rowers return to heroes’ welcome at Olympic Village

By Vivienne Clarke and Max McLean, PA

Ireland’s Olympic champion rowers were given a heroes’ welcome by their teammates upon their return to the Olympic Village.

Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy triumphed in the lightweight double sculls in Tokyo, securing Ireland’s first ever Olympic gold in rowing.

After their medal ceremony they were greeted by a throng of supporters who had congregated with flags at their accommodation in Tokyo.

“I asked someone and they said they were waiting for the rowers who won gold – I thought that was really cool,” sports writer Gary Lemke said.

“Then I saw them across the road coming past the dining hall, so I started filming a video and the Irish were singing ‘Ole! Ole! Ole!’ and clapping, which was great.

“I just thought that this from the Irish team was a wonderful gesture.”

Meanwhile, the pair from Skibbereen in Co Cork are sure to arrive home to an even bigger reception – their gold is Ireland’s first since boxer Katie Taylor won at London 2012.

There were celebrations overnight in Cork after the Skibbereen pair landed Ireland’s first ever Olympic gold in rowing.

“The buzz around Skibbereen is amazing,” said Skibbereen Rowing Club secretary TJ Ryan. “The town is alive.”

However, O’Donovan has said he expects to receive the wrath of his mother when he returns to Ireland with his gold medal.

“I’ve been ignoring her all the while so she’s going to be fairly annoyed, when I get home I’ll get a back of the hand across the face I’d say,” he told RTÉ.

'Not to be there was awful'

Later, O’Donovan’s mother Trish told of her frustration at watching the medal-winning performance on television rather than being at the games in person.

“It was horrible watching it, looking at a screen. You’d want to be there,” she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

Ms O’Donovan said she had never had a morning as eventful as today. The experience did not compare with the Rio Olympics, she said. “Not to be there was awful.” She had walked up and down the kitchen floor while waiting and had just wanted the race to be over.

Prior to the race she took a power nap, then went out with friends for a meal. When watching the game, there had been great excitement and “we sang the national anthem.”

The outcome of the race had never been in doubt, she said. Germany was never going to be in competition with them, she added, “they race them all the time”.

The Norwegians might have provided stiff competition, but they had capsized, which could have happened to O'Donovan and McCarthy, she said.

'If he was more laid-back, he'd be dead'

As for her son’s laid-back manner, Ms O’Donovan said that “if he was any more laid-back, he’d be dead.” Nothing gets Paul excited unless someone drove over the garden flower pots, she added.

Ms O’Donovan pointed out that the number of Irish rowers at the Olympics had increased from just one in 2012, Sunita Puspure, to five in 2016, including her two sons, and there were six boats this year. She also mentioned that bronze medallist Emily Hegarty was a third cousin of her son.

As for celebrations, with Covid-19 restrictions that was unlikely, she said.

“We’ve forgotten how to celebrate,” and the rowers would have to quarantine for two weeks.

The rowers have attributed their success to a combination of luck and hard work, reflecting on the journey that brought them and their small Cork town of Skibbereen to sporting success, and are already looking ahead to the next Olympics.

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