Monday 20 January 2020

O'Donovan pulls off stunning double to add world crown to Olympic silver

Paul O’Donovan: ‘I was a bit shocked how quick I was going’. Photo: Herman Dingler/Sportsfile
Paul O’Donovan: ‘I was a bit shocked how quick I was going’. Photo: Herman Dingler/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

Olympic hero Paul O'Donovan is now officially on top of the world after the 22-year- old secured gold in the lightweight single sculls at the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam yesterday.

The Olympic silver medallist again showed his class and power with a sensational victory.

His decision to cut short his Olympic celebrations in Rio where, along with his older brother Gary, they became the first Irish rowers to secure an Olympic medal when finishing second in the lightweight double sculls, was entirely justified as he swept to a near facile victory yesterday.

"I was feeling pretty good in the warm-up so I was confident I could do pretty well in the race," said O'Donovan.

"The 'B' final had been on a bit earlier and I'd seen the times for that so when I could see the speed I was doing in the warm-up I was a bit shocked how quick I was going.

"The first stroke was bad, but then the second one was good so I went from there.

"At the 500-metre to go mark I remembered I told my friends when I was in Rio that I would win here by open water, so I thought I should probably keep my promise.

"Then at 200 metres to go I guess I started smiling a little," added the jubilant O'Donovan who finished fourth in last year's final in Amsterdam.

This victory completes a remarkable 17 days for Irish rowing, one of the country's 'Cinderella sports' which is now likely to benefit from a much increased profile.

Apart from the O'Donovans' historic silver medal in Rio, the lightweight pair of Sinéad Lynch and Claire Lambe became the first Irish female crew to reach an Olympic final where they finished sixth. Yesterday in Rotterdam, the O'Donovans' training partners in Skibbereen, Mark O'Donovan and Shane O'Driscoll, finished fourth behind gold medallist France in the lightweight pairs final just moments after the single sculls final.

O'Donovan is only the fourth Irish sculler to win a gold medal in an 'A' final at senior World Championship level following in the footsteps of Sean Drea (1975) - who won the heavyweight single sculls title - and lightweights Niall O'Toole (1991) and Sinéad Lynch (2001).

Cheered on by his brother Gary and a large contingent of family and friends from Skibbereen, he comfortably won the 2,000m race in seven minutes 32.8 seconds - nearly four seconds clear of the fast-finishing Hungarian Peter Galambos (7:36.9) who pipped the pre-race favourite 31-year-old Slovakian Lukas Babac, the reigning European champion, for the silver medal.

After making his customary slow start, O'Donovan was lying fifth after 500 metres but he moved rapidly through the field and was disputing the lead with the Slovenian sculler at the halfway point.

The Corkman then increased his stroke rate to 38 and effectively won the race in the next 500 metres as he went a boat length clear and there was never the slightest possibility of being caught.

He admitted too that reverting back to the single after the Olympic success had been trickier than he had expected.

"I was rowing like a bit of a gobshite in the earlier rounds but I managed to sort it out yesterday evening - I went for a bit of a paddle and fixed the technique a little," he said.

O'Donovan is due to return to UCD to resume his physiotherapy studies. But first there promises to be a homecoming like no other for the brothers, who hail from Lisheen just outside Skibbereen.

"There was a huge contingent over from Skibbereen and I could hear them roaring in the crowd so I was looking around a bit trying to take all that in," O'Donovan said.

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