Place booked in an Olympic final. A world’s best time to go with it. And all on the back of what Paul O’Donovan described as a bit of a party with the Norwegians the night before. Just another day, and night, in the life of this extraordinary men’s lightweight double sculls crew.
O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy posted a time of 6:05.33 to overtake a record that had stood for seven years, their performance coming on a course that was buffeted by very strong winds in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Nepartak that passed through Tokyo and caused a delay to the schedule this week.
The conditions were so bad that Norway’s Kristoffer Brun and Are Weierholt Strandli were capsized in the first of the heats while other crews had obvious difficulties in dealing with the elements. Commentators on Eurosport called for the regatta to be postponed again at one point.
And amid all this, the serenity of the Irish pair.
O’Donovan, when asked about the conditions, described them as “not too tough”. Leaning nonchalantly against a barrier in the mixed zone at the time, he added that the crew had rowed in worse during their pre-Games training camp in Spain.
It was all very matter-of-fact given the drama that had unfolded around them and the time they recorded.
Still, gotta be happy with that record, right?
“I suppose, yeah. You’d have to be," said the older of the pair. "You couldn’t be upset with it really. I suppose the more important race is on tomorrow, for the medals rather than the times today.
“We won’t get too excited yet. We’d a little bit of a party last night with the Norwegians. We’re going to cut back on that tonight because they certainly weren’t the better of it.”
It’s the normalcy of their brilliance that strikes you up close. O’Donovan and McCarthy hardly seem to break sweat on the water. There is no grimacing. Not so much pulling like a dog as much as reposing comfortably like one on its owner’s lap.
The Italian crew is one of the chief contenders here but when they pulled out fast at the start it caused no alarm, no ripples in their minds. That’s just what the Italians do. They knew this. They clipped the odd wave as the wind kicked the surface up but they had almost two-and-a-half seconds to spare on the Italians by the end and there’s clearly more to come.
Maybe the biggest threat to them tomorrow will be the German pairing of Jonathan Rommelmann and Jason Osborne which came together as a crew at the start of 2019 when Osborne’s previous teammate, Lucas Schaler was injured.
They hit it off immediately.
Gold came in their first international race, the European Championships that same year, and they won both the second and third World Cup regattas that same year.
It was a winning streak that ended when O’Donovan and McCarthy claimed the top honours at the Worlds later that year. Incidentally, the silver medallists then were the same Italian crew – Stefano Oppo and Pietro Ruta – that is in action here.
Other dangers will lurk in the waters besides.
“Norway finished second to us in Lucerne, ahead of the Germans and Italians there,” said O’Donovan. “But they're out now and the Germans beat the Italians in the heats, so I think it would be Germany, ourselves, Italy...
“Uruguay are after making the final. They made a big push in the other race. They made a very fast finish so we'll have to keep an eye out for them as well.”
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