IT’S a calculated gamble that Shane O’Driscoll feels they have to take.
Having dominated the lightweight pair event this year, winning World and European gold and winning the three Rowing World Cups as well, O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan have switched their attention from the non-Olympic lightweight pair to the Olympic class heavyweight pair as they step up their intentions to qualify for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
The move from lightweight to heavyweight will take time and it means that the men who bossed the lightweight pair this year will have to readjust their goals for 2018 as it’s unrealistic to expect them to contest for medals straightaway.
‘It’s important that we get our heads around that from the start,’ Shane (25) said.
‘Realistically, next year we won’t be winning a heavyweight event, judging on our times from last year and how much we can achieve in a few months.
‘We are going to take a step back before we can go forward.
‘We will lose our winning streak but we need to set realistic goals for ourselves. For our first regatta we will look at the entry and we might say that if we get in the top eight of that entre, then we are doing well.
‘We have to accept that it’s going to be a big challenge.
‘Putting on the muscle, it’s more kilos so we will weigh more, we will carry more weight, it will take time in the gym and we need to get the balance right between that and the water. It will take time.
‘We are going to lose a world championship medal each year but we hope to gain an Olympic spot.’
Shane is looking at the bigger picture: the 2020 Olympic Games. Mark and himself believe switching to the heavyweight pair is their ticket to Tokyo, even though reaction has been mixed.
‘When we arrived home after the world championships (in September) and explained our plan, a few people said that we are crazy, that we are off our heads, that the guys we will be racing are six foot five, they are huge guys and people are still saying that to us,’ Shane said.
‘But we have to do this. We want to go to an Olympics and this is the best way of going.’
Speaking to The Southern Star after the world championships in Florida, former world champion single sculler Niall O’Toole said that Shane and Mark ‘definitely’ have to move to heavyweight, while also warning that it will take time to see results in the heavier class.
‘It’s a difficult process, I don’t think they will have a massively good year next year, we need to be patient with them, we need to look towards 2019,’ explained O’Toole.
‘The pair is highly technical so light guys can move the pair if they move it really well. They can beat bigger guys who don’t row it as well.
‘What tends to happen is that weightlifting muscles are different from rowing muscles so they will have to do a programme of weights and they also need to bring that power and strength into their rowing strokes. It is different. That’s why they need that time – to put on the muscle and then transfer that into boat speed.’
Shane acknowledges that will take time and the process is ongoing as the Skibb men build muscle ahead of 2018 and their first season at heavyweight.
‘The heavyweights are big guys with have long arms and long legs, 90 kilos plus. At the moment I’m 74, 75 kilos, Mark is similar. We have a lot of muscle to put on. We’re caught for height too, especially me. I’m not a tall guy,’ Shane said.
‘The way we row is very unique and we are quite proud of that and we believe in that. People say the way we row is crazy, we basically throw length out the window, we put the oar in aggressively and hard and make sure there is no slippage on the boat. It’s very efficient, I find, and we really have tested it out in training and it works.
‘There is more to come out of our stroke. It’s the fastest way we have of getting from A to B. When we go up in weight and see how muscle we put on and how faster we can get, this is a whole new world.
‘In 2014 we started our campaign in a lightweight four, we failed at that and we went into a lightweight pair. Even since 2015 we have been aiming to win a world championship in the pair and we pulled that off; that’s the end of that chapter, that goal reached. We put years of our life into reaching that target.
‘Now it’s a new chapter, similar to when we started out in the lightweight pair and every year we are going to build on it, up until Tokyo.
‘This is a bigger challenge than winning the lightweight world but we’re ready for it. Qualifying for the Olympics is our goal.’