Tuesday 22 May 2018

O'Donovans fly the flag for 'Skibb' and Ireland as they land our first Olympic rowing medal

Paul and Gary O'Donovan celebrate after finishing second in the Men's Lightweight Double Sculls. Photo: Getty Images
Paul and Gary O'Donovan celebrate after finishing second in the Men's Lightweight Double Sculls. Photo: Getty Images
Paul O'Donovan, left, and Gary O'Donovan with their delighted dad Teddy. Photo: Sportsfile

Vincent Hogan in Rio de Janeiro

Ireland's first ever Olympic rowing medal yesterday transported jovial Cork brothers Gary and Paul O'Donovan into the hearts of the nation.

After decades of Irish frustration for the sport at this level, stretching right back to Sean Drea's cruel fourth place in the single sculls at Montreal in '76, the Skibbereen boys brought home a glorious silver from under Corcovado mountain.

On a red-letter day in which Ireland also had a crew in the women's lightweight double sculls, Sinead Jennings and Claire Lamb coming home sixth, the O'Donovans stole the hearts of the Olympic regatta with a stunning row that, incredibly, brought them to within half a second of gold.

That was won by the French world champion boat of Pierre Houin and Jeremie Azou, with the O'Donovans a fast-closing second and Norway taking bronze.

The previously unheralded Irish boys, crowned European champions in May in the French crew's absence, were considered long shots for a medal given their relative lack of experience (just 18 months) as a double sculls partnership.

Their victory electrified not just a sport accustomed to relative obscurity at home, but an Irish Olympic team still reeling from a difficult first week in Rio for the boxers.

Gary (23), the eldest by a year, revealed afterwards: "We are so lucky and honoured that we can be ambassadors for Ireland and rowing."

Whilst he was planning a night of celebrations, Paul was more circumspect as he flies to Rotterdam next week to compete as a single sculler in the World Championships.

All in all, it was a good day for Irish Olympians, Judy Reynolds qualifying for the individual dressage final; Mark English making it through to the 800m semi-finals; golfer Seamus Power shooting a four-under-par 67 to put himself into contention at the golf and Annalise Murphy holding a bronze medal position in the women's laser sailing category.

Fellow sailors Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern, meanwhile, lie fifth overall in the men's 49er competition, while Scott Evans became Ireland's first ever winner of an Olympic badminton match.

Irish Independent

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