Tuesday 24 October 2017

After the Olympic circus

The O’Donovan brothers, Sinéad Lynch, Thomas Barr and Scott Evans tell Barry Lennon about the reality after Rio

Paul and Gary O’Donovan
Paul and Gary O’Donovan

Barry Lennon

Former Olympian Niall O'Toole advised Scott Evans to keep his badminton career going as long as possible, warning that "everything else in life is pretty crappy".

The oarsman recalled finding winters living in his parents' Dublin home difficult to adjust to after the Olympics.

However unglamorous training was then, it was better than his time after rowing, something he was alerted to when taking on his first job aged 27.

"I lost funding and said, 'I better get me sh** together.' I started to try work and row at the same time. I got a reality check," O'Toole told Newstalk recently.

This wake-up call still haunts the 46-year-old, making him caution athletes against giving up during a harsh winter after a Games.

Sinéad Lynch

Sinéad Lynch will have her own vows to make when considering her future after her sister's wedding in Donegal this Christmas.

The bride, Catriona Jennings, finished last in London 2012's marathon when she was hampered by injury and gave up on her bid to make Rio as an oarswoman, struggling to juggle work with a new code.

Lynch, however, enjoyed a more fruitful Games this year after she and Claire Lambe became the first Irish female crew to reach an Olympic rowing final.

Quitting after a 16-year journey would be a hard call - she missed out by 0.1 seconds on 2004, politics cost her 2008 and a puncture denied her 2012.

The 40-year-old has had little free time to mull over this since returning from Brazil as she, husband Sam (a former Olympian) and their three girls had to move to Limerick, having spent a year in Cork's National Rowing Centre.

September meant a new school for daughter Clodagh (5) and mum has gone back to work as a doctor in St John's Hospital.

"I'm so surprised how many of the patients actually recognise me. I'm not overwhelmed when I walk down the wards. Just a nice level of fame," she said.

Despite three kids aged five and under plus 24-hour shifts, Lynch's first appointment at 6.30 every morning is training.

With both parents in medicine, grandparents, au-pairs and friends help plug the child-minding gap.

"It's more difficult to coordinate. I haven't a chance to get miserable yet. With moving the family and everything, there's been no time for any type of come-down at all," she said.

Paul and Gary O'Donovan

The O'Donovan brothers drew almost 20,000 people to Skibbereen when they arrived home in August with their Olympic silver medals (and Paul's world gold).

Since then Paul O'Donovan (22) went back to physiotherapy in UCD and brother Gary (23) graduated from CIT with a marketing degree.

Paul trains on the college rowing machines during the week and the pair meet up on the water at home at weekends. There normality ends.

They've been invited to row in Boston, switched on Cork City's Christmas lights and are set to complete the chat-show circuit - they'll be on Graham Norton's New Year's Eve show.

"I don't understand why people get that low after (Olympics) because it's a very short time and then you're straight back to what you usually love doing," said Paul.

It's different if you're not set for a €30,000 boost in State funding for a podium finish. Although their focus is rowing, not money or big issues, best shown when asked about the controversial leaking of athletes' medical data.

"What is it?" answered Gary. "Are they supposed to be leaked? Oh, that's why you're asking."

Thomas Barr

Thomas Barr agrees with one journalist's assessment of his result in the 400m hurdles final - fourth place is the new bronze.

The 24-year-old was stunned by the hype his Olympic performance generated, travelling several times a week to Dublin from UL for interviews. He's not sure he could handle a medal.

"It can be frustrating when I want to focus on training but you have to pinch yourself because it's not going to last for ever. It's nice to feel wanted," he said.

The Waterford athlete realised the benefits of the hard yards he put in on the campus running track in the winter with his sister Jessie.

An increase in his grant and graduating with a Sports Management Masters allows him to focus on next year's World Championships without major distraction.

Barr was in Cork City Hall to see Rob Heffernan's medal presentation last month, as the Corkman was upgraded to bronze after 2012 Olympic champion Sergey Kirdyapkin of Russia was stripped of his gold medal.

"People kept joking to me, 'Oh that could be you in a couple of years' time'. I never thought that," Barr said.

"Before I'd have said it's a really hollow victory. But what they organised for Rob was special, a big reception, the national anthem in front of all his friends.

"He wouldn't have that in the Olympic Stadium. I'd be pretty happy if there was as big a deal made for me."

Scott Evans

Badminton has never been better for Scott Evans after reaching the last 16 in Rio, and it has meant more trips home for interviews and TV appearances.

There is success too on the court in Denmark, where he has played professionally since he left school at Old Wesley aged 16.

He joined new club Skælskor-Slagelse who are league title contenders in the country where live badminton on TV is as common as Premier League football in Ireland.

The 29-year-old made this month's Irish Badminton Open final but lost out, complaining about the effects of his advancing years after the five-day competition.

Before Rio, he questioned why he endured Scandinavian winters with just a €12,000 annual grant in a notoriously expensive country. Now he can't afford to ignore O'Toole's warning.

Would he say anything different to his 16-year-old self? "No, go (to Denmark). You won't get that opportunity again," he said.

"I thought I might cool it down after (the Olympics) but I've had a good result. A lot of the guys in the top 15 don't look like they'll continue to the next Games which gives me belief that I can go and get a medal in Tokyo."

Point taken, Niall.

Irish Independent

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