SKIBBEREEN rower Paul O’Donovan is achieving ‘an almost legendary stature’ in the sport and ‘is a force of nature’, according to former Olympic champion and renowned rowing commentator Martin Cross.
At last weekend’s World Rowing Cup II in Lucerne, O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy powered to gold glory in the lightweight men’s double.
It was a dominant display by the current World and European champions who have now won gold in their last three international regattas. In fact, they have won every heat and semi-final in those three regattas too, highlighting their superiority over the rest of the lightweight men’s double field.
Four-time World champion Paul (27) is a big reason for the Irish boat’s current success and Martin Cross, 1984 Olympic gold medallist with Great Britain and also a highly-regarded rowing journalist and commentator, reveals how the Skibb man is viewed by the international rowing community.
‘It’s going into the stuff of legend,’ Cross says on this week’s Star Sport Podcast.
‘Clearly, Paul and Gary burst on the scene in Rio 2016 and went into a superstar status that rowers rarely do, outside of someone like Sir Steve Redgrave with five Olympic gold medals. Non-rowers would know about the O’Donovans which is highly unusual. There was that status anyway, but Paul showed, when he went into the single in 2016 and 2017, how phenomenal he was by himself by winning the World single scull titles.
‘Then when Paul went back into the double, he won gold in 2018 with Gary and then in 2019 with Fintan, and the dominance that boat showed on a fantastic field last weekend was striking.
‘I heard a couple of South African rowers doing a podcast in Lucerne last weekend and one asked “what was your favourite race?” The other answered “the lightweight men’s double” – and he said “I just love watching the Irish and Paul O’Donovan, just the way they race, it’s so powerful and so dynamic, and no-one can touch them”.
‘Paul is achieving an almost legendary stature. And he is yet to win an Olympic title, an Olympic gold medal.’
The Irish lightweight men’s double is favourite to win gold at the Olympics in Tokyo this summer and rowing expert Cross can’t see a crew elsewhere that will stop them.
Last weekend O’Donovan and McCarthy won the A final by open water, leaving their rivals battling it out for the other medals.
‘It’s a little short of sensational,’ Cross says.
‘Paul and Fintan are out in front by a sizeable margin and it’s very difficult to see how any of the other crews can take back that margin.
‘It would take an immense upset for them to be beaten in Tokyo. It’s one of the things with Sir Steve Redgrave who got five Olympic gold medals, they used to say that he beat his rivals before they had even taken to the water. In other words, they accepted that they were racing for silver. I think it’s something of the same in the lightweight men’s double sculls.’
Cross adds: ‘Paul is a force of nature. Walking around the boat park you see the size of his leg muscles. Normally with lightweights they are skinny creatures because they have to weigh in at 70 kilos, but somehow Paul maintains this incredible strength and bulk in his frame.
‘To see Paul and Fintan come down the course and the attack they put into each stroke, it is like watching something primeval.’
There was also success for Skibbereen rower Lydia Heaphy who won a brilliant silver medal in the lightweight women’s single at World Rowing Cup II, while Gary O’Donovan just missed out on a medal after finishing fourth in the A final of the lightweight men’s single.