'They will try for sure' - Paul O'Donovan says Cork brothers have new Irish rivals after securing world gold
Ireland's lightweight rowers were on top of the world yesterday with two stunning gold medals at the World Championships in Florida.
Olympic silver medallist Paul O'Donovan retained the world title in lightweight single sculls, after Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan set the tone with gold in the lightweight pair.
It was the climax of an epic season for the three Skibbereen oarsmen, whose success has helped put the Co Cork town on the map as well as raising the profile of their sport in this country beyond their expectations.
Despite starting his final as favourite, Paul O'Donovan knew that Norwegian Kristoffer Brun had posted a faster semi-final time on Thursday.
In a change from his usual pattern, the Rio Olympian edged in front of the six-boat field after 100 metres. But it was Brun who led Swiss sculler Michael Schmid after 500, with O'Donovan 0.65 sec off the lead in fourth place.
Inside the second quarter O'Donovan began to mount a destructive attack - lifting the rate and reaching the halfway mark clear of Switzerland and Norway.
It stayed that way until the final 300 metres where O'Donovan plainly had control, crossing the line with clear water ahead of the field, while New Zealand's Matthew Dunham caused a surprise by denying Brun the silver medal with a late surge.
Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan's pairs win was all the more emphatic - blasting off the blocks at 58 strokes a minute to get in front of the pack, where they stayed for the full 2,000m distance, never letting their rate drop below 43.
"We've won five medals and they're all gold but when we look back and this one out of it, having four is unbelievable and this is the icing on the cake," said Mark. "This one means a lot because were pushed harder for it, and the heat was kicking up at the end and I was fatiguing, but it's the same for everyone and I'd say they were hurting just as much as we were."
They crossed the line for gold with distance to spare, to the delight of the loyal band of supporters who had followed them to the USA.
Italy's Giuseppe Di Mare and Alfonso Scalzone won the race for silver while Xavier Vela Maggi and Willian Giaretton of Brazil denied Great Britain the bronze.
For a few short minutes it seemed that Ireland's rowers might relive the glory days of 2001, when the World Championships in Switzerland witnessed triple gold for Sam Lynch, Sinéad Jennings, Gearóid Towey and Tony O'Connor. But lightweight sculler Denise Walsh could not match the sort of performance that won her European silver earlier in the season, trailing in sixth place in a race won by Kirsten McCann of South Africa.
Old Collegians' sculler Sanita Puspure kept Ireland's hopes alive in the Olympic boat classes where she took second place in the semi-finals for women's single sculls behind Jeannine Gmelin of Switzerland to qualify for tomorrow's final.
Germany's Annekatrin Thiele led the field in the early stages but ran out of steam as Gmelin took on the lead at halfway, where less than a second separated the four leading contenders.
Puspure put everything into the final quarter, crossing the line just 0.03 seconds behind Gmelin, while Austria's Magdalena Lobnig took third.
Victoria Thornley of Great Britain won the other semi-final in a time that was almost five seconds slower than Puspure's race.
In the final race of the day, Belfast's Patrick Boomer and NUIG's Fionnán McQuillan-Tolan, the least experienced members of Ireland's team in Florida, finished in fourth place in the 'C' final of the men's pairs.