Friday 9 December 2016

'We have a bit of a banter which makes it more fun' - Silver-tongued O'Donovan brothers

O'Donovans claim the first Irish medal of Olympics

Sean McGoldrick

Published 13/08/2016 | 02:30

Gary O’Donovan is congratulated by Ireland team-mates Sinead Lynch and Claire Lambe, right, after finishing second in the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls. Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Gary O’Donovan is congratulated by Ireland team-mates Sinead Lynch and Claire Lambe, right, after finishing second in the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

Ireland's newest sporting heroes, the O'Donovan brothers Gary (23) and Paul (22), performed at least as well off the water yesterday in Rio as they did in their boat when winning Ireland's first ever Olympic rowing medal.

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At the official post-race press conference, Gary did the 'warm-up' before the official event got under way. He had an audience of journalists in stitches as he kicked off proceedings with a string of questions directed at one of the Norwegian scullers, Are Strandli.

"He has promised to buy me a drink tonight," said Gary when I asked him how they planned to celebrate their achievement, which was watched in the Lagoa Stadium by his proud parents Teddy and Trish.

The rapport between the Irish and the Scandinavian crew was self-evident, but according to Gary they are used to meeting each other in the weigh-in room before every race.

"We have a bit of a banter which makes it more fun. People can get nervous before a race, but we try and lighten the mood."

The close-knit nature of the Irish rowing community was illustrated immediately after the race when the Irish women's lightweight crew of Sinead Lynch and Claire Lambe, who were still coming to terms with their disappointment after finishing last in their final, rushed down the jetty to congratulate the brothers.

For years, the O'Donovan brothers had pestered their father - a long-time member of Skibbereen Rowing Club - to put them in a boat on the water.

Read More: 'I hear Skibbereen is after closing down... 'tis a pity we're missing it!'

"We have been forever into rowing. Our Dad was always involved in the rowing club. He used to take us in to watch the crews in the National championships. We used to watch all the Skibbereen crews racing there and look up to them," said Gary.

"They would come in and they would all be wrecked and then they would go out for another race and another race. And we used to be amazed. We kept asking him 'Can you take us rowing? Can you take us rowing?"

"In 2001 he took us out for the first time and we were delighted and we couldn't wait to go back," added Gary, who plans to watch the rest of the Olympics in Rio before heading to Rotterdam to support Paul, who will be aiming to win a medal in the lightweight single sculls having finished fourth in the 2014 World Championships.

In the autumn, the brothers are planning to resume their studies; Gary plans to do a masters in Limerick while Paul is returning to UCD to complete a degree in physiotherapy.

It was a heroic and historic performance from the O'Donovans, who only started to concentrate on the double sculls a couple of years ago but underlined their potential when they won the European championships earlier this summer. And the brothers have no intention of resting on their laurels despite the historic nature of their silver medal performance.

Once again displaying their deadpan sense of humour, Gary said "Ah sure, it's been a good year,"

"It's been a great year. European champions and Olympic silver medallists. Hopefully there is more to come in the future," he added. "We finished 11th in the World Championships and our goal was to win the Olympics but we're not going home disappointed with a silver medal at all."

After previously revealing that their tilt at glory had been built on a diet of steak, they admitted they were looking forward to mixing up their cuisine. Gary said: "We haven't had a bite to eat since after the weigh-in, I believe they are on the way with some pizza for us."

Irish Independent

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