Gary O’Donovan feels little will separate top crews as Skibb stars’ title on the line
BY KIERAN McCARTHY
GARY and Paul O’Donovan will come up against the French duo that denied them a gold medal in the 2016 Olympic Games at this weekend’s European Rowing Championships in the Czech Republic.
That’s one of several sub-plots to the action in Racice, as the O’Donovans defend the European title they won in May 2016 in Brandenburg – the only international gold medal they have won together in the Irish lightweight double.
To repeat last year’s success in Germany the Lisheen brothers need to beat the talented French combination of Jeremie Azou and Pierre Houin who won gold in Rio, with 21 crews entered in the lightweight double this weekend.
‘The French lads will be there so that will be interesting,’ Gary told The Southern Star.
‘The first few rounds will be very competitive so the heats and semi-finals will be more competitive than they were at the World Cup in Belgrade earlier in the month.
‘The top crews will be very close. If you look at last year there was very little separating the top crews, from first to sixth, and it will be the same again.’
The O’Donovans finished fourth in the A final at World Cup I in Belgrade and Gary points out that they were less than 1.5 seconds behind gold winners Great Britain, and he expects it to be even closer at this weekend’s Europeans.
‘It’s a competitive field and it’s only going to get more competitive as more crews enter – the full complement of entries weren’t at the first World Cup,’ he explained.
‘The margins are always so small every year. Belgrade was a reminder that this event is so competitive. We were still close to a medal, just 1.5 seconds off winning a gold medal, and there were two boats in between us that won silver and bronze.
‘Look at us last year, we won a medal at the first World Cup, finished fourth in the other two, won a medal at the Europeans and the Olympics. Any day you might win a medal or you might not.
‘All we can do is race our hardest and hope that’s enough to win us a medal. We raced our hardest in Rio and won silver, and we race our hardest in Belgrade but didn’t win.
‘We’ll damn well try our hardest to win a medal this weekend.
‘It comes back to what we always say – we want to win every race we enter. We didn’t win our last race in the World Cup in Belgrade but we’ll try our very best to win the Europeans, and the two World Cups coming up after and the world championships (in Florida) later in the year, just like we try and win everything.’
Along with Skibbereen duo Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan in the men’s lightweight pair (gold medallists at World Cup I earlier this month) and Denise Walsh in the women’s lightweight single (silver medallist in World Cup I), all five Skibb rowers will set their target on a medal in the Czech Republic this weekend.
That Shane, Mark and Denise outshone their famous club-mates was no surprise to Gary and Paul – ‘that wasn’t a shock to us, we see how good they are every day at training,’ Gary said – but the Olympic silver medallists are in a better place heading into the Europeans than they were ahead of World Cup I in Belgrade.
While Gary’s based in Cork and studying a Masters in Law at UCC, Paul was kept busy with his college course (physiotherapy) in UCD right up to the week before the World Cup event in Belgrade, so they weren’t training together in the double as often – but since then they’ve been on a training camp in Varese (along with Shane, Mark and Denise) and the signs are encouraging.
‘The weather’s been good, we’ve been training in all types of conditions and we’ve had a lot of time in the boat,’ explained Gary from their training base in Gavirate, northern Italy, before adding it takes time to get back to full speed after time apart.
‘When we go back into it after a bit of time out we would be a bit rusty – our synchronisity during the drive phase might be a bit out or our power application mightn’t be 100 per cent.
‘Naturally enough after a bit of time out and time away from rowing together it does take a little bit more practice to get back into it. But it wouldn’t take too long either. It’s like in football, the more a team plays together, the better they become – that’s like myself and Paul in rowing.’
The hope is that their time together in Italy will be enough to help them defend their European title this weekend.
• Good news for rowing fans is that RTÉ will broadcast the action from the European Rowing Championships on RTÉ 2 this Saturday (8.55pm – 12pm) and Sunday (9.15am – 1.30pm), so it’s a chance to watch our five Skibb rowing stars in action.