Future focus: Olympic rower Paul O'Donovan sets his sights on Tokyo 2020

He's about to start graduate medicine in UCC, but his thoughts couldn’t be further from anatomy, physiology and biochemistry.

Future focus: Olympic rower Paul O'Donovan sets his sights on Tokyo 2020

He's about to start graduate medicine in UCC, but his thoughts couldn’t be further from anatomy, physiology and biochemistry.

Olympic rower Paul O’Donovan is competing flat out with his brother Gary to win a medal in the men’s double sculls at the World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

When we talk, he is with the Irish team in Banyoles, Spain, training three times a day in a determined bid to up their race.

And it’s not just the World Championships the Lisheen man has in his sights — the Tokyo Olympics are just two years away. “We’ve had some very consistent results — we’ve won a medal at everything bar one regatta as far as I can remember,” says the 24-year-old.

“We still have more room to develop our physical capacities and work on the technique a little bit more. They say a lot of rowers peak around 28 or 30. Hopefully, the best is yet to come from us.”

Gary and Paul will be at the National Ploughing Championships with insurance company FBD, to chat about the importance of exercise, eating right, and minding your mental health.

What shape are you in?

Probably the best shape I’ve ever been in. Training has been going really well. We get up about 8.30am, have some breakfast, and go out on the water. We did five 1500m pieces this morning with about three minutes’ break in between each one. This evening we’ll probably do 24km — long and steady — it takes the bones of two hours to do that. Following that, we’ll do some weight lifting in the gym. We train six days a week.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

We try to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit but sometimes in the midst of all the hard training the vegetables get in the way of the carbohydrates — calories that you need for energy. When we’re training a lot we nearly tend to eat a bit worse, just so that we can get in enough calories to fuel ourselves. We’d eat a lot of rice and pasta and potatoes and fish — we try to eat a lot of red meat as well to make sure we’re getting enough iron in the diet. It’s difficult to fit it all in. Your belly would be about to explode sometimes.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

We’ve a lot of Jelly Tots on the boat — they’re good in the middle of training. We go for an ice cream most evenings after dinner. We’re sampling all the varieties at the minute.

What would keep you awake at night?

I sleep well enough — as long as it’s cold.

How do you relax?

I enjoy reading. I’m in between two books at the minute. I’m most of the way through Oliver Twist and then I’ve only just started War and Peace by Tolstoy. It’ll take me a while to get through it. I’ve only gotten into [reading] in the past few years since we started going away on training camps. It’s good to put to you to sleep at night.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

All the lads from at home — they are good craic. I wouldn’t be too big on celebs — people who you know is nearly nicer.

What’s your favourite smell?

When you get a new boat delivered straight from the factory and you unwrap the plastic — there’s a lovely fresh smell of it. We’re rowing a yellow Empacher at the minute, it’s from Germany.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

Not much. I’m fine with what I have, to be honest. Not that I think I’m great or anything. You can’t change who you are. There is not much you can do about it.

When is the last time you cried?

When I came fourth in the Junior World Championships in the single scull in 2011 — it was my first World Championships and I was quite young at the time. It’s important to experience [losing] because you can’t win all the time. It’s the same with life.

What traits do you least like in others?

Narcissism is never good. And I just think a lack of conscientiousness as well. If you’re going to do something you bloody well do it properly and follow through with the thing. When people don’t do that I get a bit irritated.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

I think sometimes I give out a bit too much, especially to the brother Gary. I mean well and try to be constructive but I’m too blunt sometimes. He takes it well in fairness to him.

Do you pray?

I don’t really.

What would cheer up your day?

Ice cream is always good.

Irene Feighan

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