Gary feels more independent after season of learning in lightweight single
BY KIERAN McCARTHY
AS you’d expect, Gary O’Donovan’s goal is to win back his seat in the Irish lightweight double.
This is a man who has won an Olympic silver medal, was a world champion and was the best in Europe, all in the double with his brother Paul.
Right now, Gary is on the outside looking in as the new-look Irish double of Paul and another Skibbereen rower, Fintan McCarthy, have maintained the momentum that the O’Donovan brothers have built.
Together, Paul and Fintan won gold at the World Rowing Championships in Linz-Ottensheim last weekend, and qualified the boat for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The Irish double will be there but the two seats in the boat are up for grabs.
At the worlds, Gary finished fourth in the B final – and tenth overall – in the men’s lightweight single sculls. A wrist injury he suffered earlier in the year hampered him and meant he wasn’t at the peak of his powers at the national trials – but, physically, Gary feels he’s where he needs to be now as he sets about getting back into the double.
‘Since I moved into the single after missing out on the double back in May when we did the trial, I have put together an excellent four months of training. It’s probably been the best four months of training that I have ever done,’ Gary told RTÉ Sport.
‘The injury held me back more so at the start of the season. In the trials and in the European Championships I just wasn’t as fit as I would have liked to be early on. I have been working hard and I am physiologically fitter than I have ever been in my life. I am fitter and stronger than ever before.
‘I have been training hard, working hard and I just think I am not up to that standard in the single yet. The single is kind of a specialised event in a way, there are some exceptional athletes out there.
‘Obviously Paul is remarkable, he has won the (world) single twice, he is probably the top sculler in the world, and on my best days at home, I was only within seven seconds at my best of Paul.’
Gary had five races in the single at the worlds, from the heat to the repechage, the quarter-final, the A/B semi-final where he finished sixth and then the B final where he came fourth. That’s an excellent result for Gary who is not known as a single sculler and it’s encouraging for him as he plots how to win his seat back in the Irish lightweight double.
‘If there was ever a motivating factor for me to get back into it, it’s now. That’s the goal, to get into it,’ the 26-year-old says.
‘I think it’s a very internal thing, it’s not really an external thing. I’m not walking around the rowing centre looking at Fintan and he’s not going around looking at me. We’re not looking over our shoulder to see is he doing extra mileage or whatever.
‘It’s “what can I do?”. For me to beat Fintan or to beat Paul or to stay ahead of Jake or stay ahead of whoever, I have to be internal and think what can I do, what’s the best training I can do, what’s the best recovery I can do, what’s my best plan from now until next summer.’
Gary’s pedigree cannot be questioned. He has the medals to prove that he is one of the top lightweight rowers in the world, and right now Ireland is loaded with quality lightweights, including Paul, Fintan, and the latter’s twin brother Jake. The competition is fierce and Gary is constantly looking to make gains and improvements. Even being in a single can improve him, he says, as he has to think for himself, instead of leaning on Paul for advice.
‘For me I think the whole campaign in the single from May until now has been a big learning curve so I have had to be really independent,’ Gary explains.
‘A lot of the time over the last few years I was depending on Paul’s knowledge and his drive and his focus. He is an expert, we all look to him, he is the leader of our group, naturally because he is the fastest guy in the world so we are going to look to him to see what does he do.
‘When I am in the double maybe I take it for granted that I listen to Paul, do what he says to do and it will work out. I have had to become very independent this year and do what I need to do to make myself faster, not what does Paul tells me do to make me faster. From that aspect it has been good for me. Dominic (Casey) has been saying it’s the best thing ever to happen to me. It might be.’
When he landed home this week after the worlds Gary had no regrets. He gave it everything in the single. He wanted a medal but in the end was just off the pace. Now with the Irish double heading to the 2020 Olympics he wants to be in it.
‘People can talk and ask and stuff – but no one will ever think about it as much as me or Paul or Fintan. This is our lives. Every day we turn up at the rowing centre it’s to get to the Olympics in the double,’ he said, before adding, ‘Ultimately it’s up to myself, Paul, Fintan, Jake who is in the quad, the other three guys in the quad if they want to have a go for it, and Dominic. It’s everything to us. We put our hearts and souls into it from one end of the year to the next. It’s always on my mind.’