New world champions saw signs that perfect race was on the cards
IN the warm-up before Saturday morning’s world championship final, Gary and Paul O’Donovan felt they were on the brink of something very special.
‘We definitely could feel during the race things were well on track,’ Gary told The Southern Star.
‘We had been getting a bit better and better every time we went out paddling around the venue on the off days and we knew we were touching on something good.
‘When we were doing the warm-up, it just went really, really well. We did a race piece before the final as a warm-up, we were looking at the speeds, and I asked Paul if there was a headwind when we were doing that because we were going up the course. He said there was, and we realised that we were going really fast with the headwind. We knew then we were going really quick.
‘At the same time we never knew that we were going to win it, we were hopeful, but the Italians were setting times just as good as us early in the week.
‘As for the race itself, it was absolutely perfect. It was surprising how good it was for us.’
The race panned out better than Gary and Paul could ever have imagined. This was their best-ever 2,000 metres of rowing, the perfect race at the perfect time. Second at the halfway mark on the outside lane six, the West Cork brothers soon hit the front and stayed here until the end, finishing in 6:06.180, just outside the world record time of 6:05.360. Italy and Belgium followed them home, but this was all about the O’Donovan brothers winning their first world gold medal together and cementing their status as the best lightweight double in the world.
‘We knew a race like that was in us and we half expected it of ourselves but you actually have to go out and do it,’ Gary said.
‘Even when you plan something you still have to go and execute it. We managed to do it really well. The fact it was a world championship final is something really special. If we did it on a day in Inniscarra we would have been delighted to put together 2,000 metres of rowing like that.
‘To come out of it with a world gold medal is extra sweet but we were hugely satisfied with the 2,000 metres of rowing because it was so good.’
While Paul has won world gold in the lightweight single in 2016 and 2017, this was Gary’s first world gold medal as he joined an exclusive club.
Two years out from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, it marks the Skibbereen Rowing Stars out as the crew to beat. But Gary points out that a lot can happen before then, pointing to their own Rio 2016 story where they went from 11th in the world in September 2015 to silver medallists in Rio.
‘It’s a nice position to be in now,’ he said.
‘But think back to two years before the last Olympics and we weren’t even racing together or on the senior team together so it shows that a lot can be done in a year.
‘If we weren’t in this position we’d still be confident that we could come back and replicate what we did in Rio. To be in this position is a nice bonus but the Olympic year has to be taken on its own merit. Anyone can come from anywhere as we proved. There will be more threats, the boats will be stronger, so we will need to be fitter, faster and stronger as well.
‘Before then we have to qualify first. That will be the top priority for the next 12 months, to qualify for Tokyo.’
2019 will be about Olympic qualification but for these few days at least, Gary and Paul can bask in the glory of their latest triumph and the latest medals to their collection, but we’ve a feeling they’ll take more satisfaction from their ‘best strokes ever’ and the perfect 2,000m row.