Paul O'Donovan not sitting back in the race for Olympic places

'Some people assume that I'm in the boat and I have to think about being in peak shape in the last week of July for the Games'
Paul O'Donovan not sitting back in the race for Olympic places

Pictured is Olympic silver medallist and FBD Insurance ambassador, Paul O’Donovan who today announced the recipients of the FBD Make a Difference programme, in conjunction with the Olympic Federation of Ireland. This fund will assist Olympic hopefuls in their preparation for the Olympic Games. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Paul O'Donovan may be considered the best lightweight rower on the planet but the Skibbereen man insists that he has it all to do to even book his place in the double sculls boat that will represent Ireland in Tokyo this summer.

Pandemic permitting, obviously.

A four-time World Championship gold medallist, O'Donovan claimed silver with his brother Gary at the Olympics in Rio in 2016 and he is generally considered the brightest of the lights that have illuminated the hugely successful Irish rowing scene this last five or so years.

There had been five men chasing the two available seats in the boat but Shane O'Driscoll took up a full-time job as an engineer last summer while Jake McCarthy suffered a disc injury in his back around the same time and isn't long back in the boat after months spent regaining his fitness.

That leaves the two O'Donovans and McCarthy's brother Fintan battling it out for the occupancy rights and, while it was Paul and Gary who stole the nation's heart in Rio and through other joint successes, it was Paul and Fintan McCarthy who won gold at the worlds in 2019.

And it was that win that qualified the boat for Japan.

Gary O'Donovan had suffered his own injury issues earlier that year but all three world-class athletes are currently fit and in good health as they train through another lockdown at the National Rowing Centre in Cork and brace for the succession of trials to come.

It's a surfeit of riches that brings to mind the long-standing situation in the USA where a long litany of top-class track athletes have failed to make one Games or other because of the depth of talent available within their own borders.

For Team Ireland, it's one of those good problems.

The plan is to test out the various combinations on the water at the end of January and again a month later. The final trial is due the end of March and is to be theoretically followed by the European Championships in April and maybe two of the three planned World Cup events before the Olympics.

“Some people assume that I'm in the boat and I have to think about being in peak shape in the last week of July for the Games,” said Paul, “but selection for the boat is really early. The boys are in better shape than they've ever been so it's going to be really competitive to make the boat.”

Pictured is Olympic silver medallist and FBD Insurance ambassador, Paul O’Donovan who today announced the recipients of the FBD Make a Difference programme, in conjunction with the Olympic Federation of Ireland. This fund will assist Olympic hopefuls in their preparation for the Olympic Games. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Pictured is Olympic silver medallist and FBD Insurance ambassador, Paul O’Donovan who today announced the recipients of the FBD Make a Difference programme, in conjunction with the Olympic Federation of Ireland. This fund will assist Olympic hopefuls in their preparation for the Olympic Games. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

It was this level of competition that prompted a break from his medical duties which, up to last month, involved a stint at Cork University Hospital where he was skipping between surgical, medical and psychiatric rotations.

There was an understandable air of caution about the hospital and everything the staff did while he was there, even though the third wave was yet to manifest itself. If anything, O'Donovan was taken by the calm manner in which everybody went about their business and there is a similar sense of quiet determination about the rowing scene right now.

The depths of winter would normally see the elite rowers at a training camp in Spain or some other warm-weather location but the waters have been relatively benign in recent months here at home and that has allowed them pursue their low-intensity sessions outdoors for the most part.

What this is all building up towards is another matter. Doubts over the Olympics are raised in different quarters on an almost daily basis but there is the not insignificant matter of the World Championships in Shanghai in October to consider as well.

O'Donovan's take on all this is identical to most athletes: train as if everything is happening. Still only 26, he has plans to push on towards Paris 2024 regardless of how the next ten months pan out and rowing is a sport that, for all its hardships, does lend itself to longevity.

Sanita Puspure, recently turned 39, is another strong Irish medal contender for Tokyo.

“I’m kinda the old man here now with all these younger guys that FBD are beginning to support. I’m not that old yet. Certainly I'll aim for 2024 and after that I'll have to see how things are going with the career as well.

“I have to keep at the job as well because they don’t like you taking too much time off. After that it will come down to a balancing act between the two to see how much training I can manage. There is time enough to be thinking about that yet.”

Paul O'Donovan, Phil Healy and Brendan Hyland are among the recipients of the FBD insurance 'Make A Difference' programme, a €50,000 fund set up in conjunction with the Olympic Federation of Ireland to assist Ireland’s hopefuls in their preparation for the Tokyo Games

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