For those back home, it was the teared-up eyes of two-time Olympian Neville Maxwell on RTÉ that told you just what this meant.
For those lucky enough to be at the lakeside to witness a glorious sliver of history, it was the empty eyes of Paul O’Donovan that told you just what it had taken.
All week he’d stood in the mixed zone regaling us with tales and quips but after yesterday’s lightweight sculls final he had nothing left.
Mentally and physically, winning the silver medal had taken everything from him and then some.
“I’m still a bit tired now to be thinking about emotions, to be honest, but we’re very happy, yeah,” was about all he managed to get out in the immediate aftermath of his achievement. And little wonder as this was brilliant from him and his brother Gary. A few days ago we knew neither them nor the wonderful story in our midst, come the race though we were relying on them.
How Ireland needed this. In a Games plagued by drugs scandals, ticket issues and defeats, rowing was never supposed to come to the rescue.
But it’s not just the fact there were a couple of Irish athletes on a podium that changed the tone and the direction we’d been heading in. It was the free and flighty attitude the Skibbereen pair brought to it all, railing against the safe and predictable nature of so much of modern sports talk.
Granted, don’t let that trick you into getting them wrong either, as behind all the fun we now have two massively talented athletes with a big present and big future. Qualifying as the third fastest boat, they were unfortunate to be drawn out in lane one with favourites France sitting pretty in the centre. But just as they had said they would, they hung tough at the start, announced themselves through the middle and then kicked. Hard. In fact by the finish this wasn’t about whether they’d get a medal, it was about whether they’d get gold as their stroke rate and speed drew level with the field and then passed it out. By the end France were clinging on.
“We wanted to go as fast as we could but to stick in the middle of the field right throughout the race, and then move on in the second half, and I think we did that quite well,” said Gary. “We knew last year after we qualified that coming into this we would have to beat a very, very good French crew that won the World Championship. And since then they went and made their crew stronger again, but to come so close to beating them and bring home the silver medal is a brilliant result. We’re delighted to be Ireland’s first ever Olympic medalists in rowing. We tried to win the gold medal and we really, really gave it everything out there. We’re delighted to come home with any medal at all and a silver one is fantastic.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved