A little holy water goes a long way in the O'Donovan household

It turns out that Olympic record-breaker Paul O'Donovan didn't cry when the Irish flag was raised in Tokyo, but he does believe his grandmother helped get him over the line
A little holy water goes a long way in the O'Donovan household

Paul O'Donovan is an ambassador for FBD Insurance, principal sponsor to Team Ireland since September 2018. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne.

Paul O’Donovan isn’t a holy man, but he does appreciate the prayers Ireland sent out on his behalf at the 2020 Olympics last month - especially those from his family members.

“Halfway through the final race, my grandmother got into a panic because the Germans were so close and she ran out to the kitchen to get the holy water and started throwing it at the television,” the gold medallist says, laughing. “They’d all be lighting candles for me, they’re very good. I do think it helps get me over the line.” 

He’s still at home in West Cork when we speak, chatting about how the town of Skibbereen has transformed into a sea of Olympic flags since he and his fellow athletes headed to Tokyo. While the countless posters, rowboat carvings, and pop-up shops have been nice, the subdued homecoming suited O’Donovan just fine.

"It's fairly chilled compared to last time because of restrictions but there's still a great buzz around," the 27-year-old says.

"We nearly prefer the smaller crowds because you can actually interact with people. It's great for the town, everyone is delighted. Hopefully, it will be good for the club as well."

The Aughadown native wouldn’t have had time to enjoy any more festivities. He was already back in the boat this week, flying over to Britain for the Henley Regatta and starting preparations for a championship in Austria later this month.

“It’s easy enough to maintain the fitness for those but we’ll cut the training a bit in winter. We still train every day but you have to take a bit of a break. We’ll just build it back up again then.” 

On top of that, it's back to college, with the UCC medicine student starting clinical placement in Cork city next month.

"It's busy for sure but there's a good balance. I don't think about rowing when I'm in college so I get a bit of a break that way. Then when I have a lot of college stuff going on I can go training and switch off. It's good to have something else for when I finish up rowing.” 

For the four-time world champion, however, that day doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon.

  • Paul O'Donovan is an ambassador for FBD Insurance, principal sponsor to Team Ireland since September 2018.

Paul O'Donovan and Fintan Mccarthy pose with their medals after the Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Final. Picture: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Paul O'Donovan and Fintan Mccarthy pose with their medals after the Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Final. Picture: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

What shape are you in?

This certainly is up there with the best shape I've ever been in. We did some testing in April and it showed we were on the right track for the end of the summer. I think the Olympics showed we're not doing too bad.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I try to eat healthy all of the time. I enjoy a good salad. But when we're training more we need calories, so we have to cut that and fill up on pasta and rice instead. It's actually when we're training harder the diet falls.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

I try not to get obsessed about food or worry about what I eat too much. I don't watch Netflix or anything either. I enjoy sitting down with a good book.

What would keep you awake at night?

I live in student accommodation so sometimes the noise would keep me awake but otherwise not much.

How do you relax?

Getting on the rowing machine, reading, or just sitting down with the lads and having a coffee.

Who are your sporting heroes?

Timmy Harnedy and Eugene Coakley. They were very good to us growing up.

What’s your favourite smell?

Freshly cut grass.

When is the last time you cried?

I haven't cried in years. I can't even remember.

What traits do you least like in others?

Laziness.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

I'm a total curmudgeon. I'm always giving out. I’m not as bad as I used to be but it’s a constant battle. Baby steps.

Do you pray?

No, I don't.

What would cheer up your day?

I'd be happy after a bit of exercise in the morning and then in Tokyo, the Japanese people were just so friendly. It really set us up in a good mood for the day.

What quote inspires you most and why?

I don't look to quotes for inspiration. You have to find that from within yourself. People spend an awful lot of time looking around for inspiration instead of just doing things.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Home. Especially in the summer, it's just gorgeous here and everyone is so friendly. Like the Japanese, they'd set you up for the day.

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