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'My goal is to win the Olympics' - Gary O'Donovan vows to join brother Paul in Tokyo

Older sibling unfazed by competition as O’Donovans look to improve on Rio silver


FBD brand ambassadors Paul and Gary O’Donovan at Skibbereen Rowing Club. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

FBD brand ambassadors Paul and Gary O’Donovan at Skibbereen Rowing Club. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

FBD brand ambassadors Paul and Gary O’Donovan at Skibbereen Rowing Club. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

In an isolated cottage in West Cork, Gary and Paul O'Donovan are still putting in the hard yards and dreaming about winning Olympic gold in 2021.

Ireland's most famous rowing siblings haven't touched the water since returning to Ireland after a Spain training camp in early March but rowing is one of the few sports where the best conditioning work can be done in the privacy of your own kitchen.

"As soon as we came back from Spain we had to go into quarantine. So we came to West Cork and rented a small cottage away from our home and our friends," explains Gary.

"We got our hands on two rowing machines and luckily they're relatively easy to move around. After the two weeks the whole isolation thing came in so we have stayed put since."

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A rowing machine is probably the best piece of exercise equipment on the planet for training, according to the 27-year-old elder sibling.

It is possible to glean more accurate information about an athlete's conditioning from indoor work-outs than time spent on the water.

Much has changed in the dynamic of the pair's relationship since they came from virtually nowhere to win the silver medal in the lightweight double sculls at the Rio Olympics four years ago.

Last year Gary lost his place in the boat to his Skibbereen club-mate Fintan McCarthy, who partnered Paul to win gold at the World Championships in Austria in August and qualified the boat for the Tokyo Olympics, now rescheduled for July 2021.

However, the composition of the crew for the double lightweight scull in Japan has yet to be determined.

While Gary agrees that the new scenario puts him under more pressure, he insists McCarthy being in the boat last year doesn't make a huge difference to him.

"My goal is to win the Olympics. How do I do that? I do all the training that is necessary to make me as strong as possible," he said.

"There are five lightweight guys training regularly but whether they're there or not I still have to do the training to be in a position to win the Olympics."

The postponement of the Tokyo Games has enabled Paul - who celebrated his 26th birthday last Sunday - to resume his medical studies in University College Cork, who awarded him a scholarship in 2018.

"I took a break at Christmas but I'm back studying now. After the Olympics were cancelled I got on to UCC where I'm on scholarship and they were very good at liaising with the medical school," explains Paul, who is now in his second year of an accelerated medical degree having already earned his physiotherapy stripes from UCD.

"They have allowed me to resume because they have put a load of material up online as they had to close down all the classes.

"I have been able to get through it and I will sit the exams in August."


Gary's college days are over - at least for the moment. He has a degree in marketing but doesn't have any definite idea about his life beyond rowing.

"You could call me a full-time athlete these days," he explains.

"I have a lot of ideas like going back studying or travelling or maybe going working. I have lots of options but nothing nailed down."

Always the more loquacious of the pair, Gary's sense of mischief is never far from the surface. When it is suggested that he has more spare time on his hands than Paul, he launches into a lyrical description of life within the permitted two-kilometre radius of their rented cottage.

"I prefer wandering around looking at the grass and the trees and checking out the views.

"There is some lovely scenery down here in West Cork. I have just to walk across a field and up on a hill and I'm looking out on Roaringwater Bay, Whitehall Castle and Sherkin Island."

Reflecting on what they achieved in Rio, he suggests they were mere novices four years ago.

"It was trial and error, naivety and stupidity that got us the success. It is a bit more calculated now. And just think in four more years how much better we can be and how more refined our programme will be," he adds.

Don't mind the banter, the O'Donovan brothers are more ambitious than ever to be the kingpins of the lightweight double sculls.

Irish Independent