Another golden moment for Skibb rowing stars at World Championships

On a wonderful day in Sarasota in Florida for Skibbereen and Irish rowing, two boats secured gold medals, with the lightweight pair of Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll capping a glorious season with their first world gold, before Paul O’Donovan defended the lightweight single sculls title he claimed in Rotterdam last year.

Another golden moment for Skibb rowing stars at World Championships

There was also another impressive row from Sanita Puspure in the heavyweight single semi-final, qualifying her for tomorrow’s final. And the only disappointment was Denise Walsh’s sixth-place finish in her women’s lightweight single final, though the experience will stand to the young Skibbereen woman.

After Puspure set the perfect tone with a storming effort in her semi, just pipped for the win by Jeannine Gmelin of Switzerland, O’Donovan and O’Driscoll got the trio of finals off to the perfect start for Ireland.

After several crews disputed the lead in the early stages, the pair upped their stroke rate beyond 44 strokes per minute and lead to the finish, eventually beating the Italian crew by a length, with Brazil in third.

It was a cathartic experience for the duo, having suffered the agony of a fourth place finish in last year’s championships.

Ireland’s Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll celebrate winning gold. Pic: INPHO/Detlev Seyb
Ireland’s Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll celebrate winning gold. Pic: INPHO/Detlev Seyb

O’Donovan described their relief: “It’s been a really long journey to get here so we are absolutely delighted to be able to take the win.

“I think the season has really pushed us to do well today.

“We’re just delighted to do it. We’ve been time and time at it and we’ve been failing, but persistence, we’re going hard at it every bloody day and we’re really getting there.

“We couldn’t have done it without some of the personal backing we’ve got from different people to actually allow us to race here, because it’s an expensive sport.”

The pair have already won three World Cup races and the European Championship this year, but this one meant a little bit more, agreed O’Driscoll.

“Like winning a million dollars. Italy really pushed us into the line. We probably didn’t get that all year. Today this fight means a bit more than the other ones, especially because it’s the World Championships.”

In customary phlegmatic style, O’Driscoll dismissed the idea there was an extra pressure at the sport’s biggest championship outside the Olympics.

“It’s like racing at Skibbereen Regatta or Cork Regatta, you’re just going to do your best anyway. It’s just two men in a boat,” said O’Driscoll.

Paul O’Donovan promptly made it a remarkable 20 minutes for Irish rowing by retaining the lightweight single sculls final, with a time of 6:48:87.

The Olympic silver-medalist, racing here without his brother Gary, dominated the race from start to finish to affirm his spot at the top of the world, comfortably beating fast-finishing New Zealander Matthew Dunham by over three seconds.

“Ah it was alright there for a while,” he told RTÉ, after he was held aloft by Dunham and bronze medalist Kristoffer Brun of Norway. “Then I started sprinting there at the end and managed to throw myself across the line and take the win. I was happy.”

In scorching and humid conditions, O’Donovan admitted he had to start conservatively.

“You have to play it safe in the first half, so you don’t blow up. We saw that yesterday in the semi-finals. You have to pace it a bit easier, so you don’t go too hard.” And he suggested his fellow gold medalists could give himself and brother Gary a run for their money in the double sculls boat before the next Olympics in Tokyo.

“They’ll try for sure. They’re good. They might knock one of us out of the two. And if they do, what harm?”

Former Irish world champion Niall O’Toole paid tribute to the scale of the Cork trio’s achievement. Speaking on Newstalk, O’Toole said: “It’s phenomenal. The boys in the pair could have thrown a bucket over the side and still won. They were so dominant.

“These are some of the toughest people on the face of the planet. Extraordinarily disciplined. The way they hold themselves and how professional they are. What they do for the kids. They are a real credit to their club and their community.”

Earlier yesterday, Patrick Boomer and Fionnan McQuillan-Tolan raced in the C Final of the (heavyweight) men’s pair, where a fourth place finish places them 16th overall. Tomorrow, the women’s pair of Aifric Keogh and Aileen Crowley compete in the B final at 2pm Irish time.

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