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'There’s nothing special about us and a lot of hard work can get you there'

Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy retuned home today after their stunning Olympic success.

THE MOST REMARKABLE part of Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy’s Olympic success is how thoroughly unremarkably they treat it. 

fintan-mccarthy-and-paul-odonovan-return-home-with-their-gold-medals-from-tokyo Fintan McCarthy and Paul O'Donovan on their return to Dublin airport. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Ireland’s latest Olympic champions returned home today, speaking to the media over Zoom from Dublin airport. Paul didn’t even have his medal slung around his neck. 

“I can’t say I’ve noticed the difference to be honest”, said Paul when asked how Olympic gold differed to the myriad medals he has gathered to date. 

“We are always trying to be the best we can be. We’d be sitting down with Dominic [Casey, coach] and planning out training, and we are constantly adjusting stuff. Then to go out and do the test gives a nice confirmation that you’ve done a good job and are on the right track.”

Olympic medals are presented and celebrated with great pomp and ceremony but are won with neither drama nor fuss. Dominic Casey delivered no great pre-race pep talk, says McCarthy, while his main post-race message was to get the boat back safely.  

“There’s no big drama before the race, it’s just another race”, says Fintan.

He’s not exactly likely to start referring to himself in the third person and calling into Liveline, but McCarthy does seems slightly more impressed by the success.

Unsurprising, given it’s the apex of a remarkably rapid personal rise for him. At 19, he appeared alongside twin brother Jake in a documentary about the O’Donovan brothers silver success in Rio, and talked of how he wanted to follow in the wake of his Skibbereen club-mates.

“I feel pretty grateful that I was part of it back then, as there was huge excitement around the place”, says Fintan. “It definitely helped me get where I am today, as I saw it was possible and it gave me a lot of motivation to keep going. We were doing similar training as we had the same coach, so it was clear it was a winning formula.” 

O’Donovan, as his is wont, makes the formula sound deeply simple. 

“After the last time, a lot of people realised there’s nothing special about us and a lot of hard work can get you there. You have to be quite strategic about it, lay out your plan and timeline and have a load of intermediate goals and measure your performance increments to see if you’re getting better. 

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“Try out a lot of things, and see what is and isn’t working, and listen to a lot of people. Then you just have to see what is making you better. It’s a constant learning experience and a bit of an experiment, but you have to be measuring things to see how things are going. That in itself can be a fun experience, and surrounding yourself with good people always helps, too.” 

McCarthy adds that given training’s heavy weighting in ratio to competition, it’s best to learn to love the training. 

“We don’t get many opportunities to race, most of what we do is training. So you have to enjoy the training and enjoy the journey. It does take time, so don’t be in any hurry to do amazing things straight away. Keep chipping away and enjoy the journey.” 

The duo will return to Skibbereen today, where the postboxes have been painted gold in their honour.  Neither of the medal winners are likely to be changed by their success, and Paul’s next focus is resuming his medical studies. 

“Too much of the rowing, I just get too consumed in it. It’s good to take a break, and that can give you more longevity in the long-run. It’s good that I can combine the two, if I had just been rowing full-time for the last 10 years I’d be thinking ‘at my age now I can’t go on at this forever, as when I do retire I won’t have anything to do.’

“So combining the two means you don’t have to worry about getting older, which is important. Both of them are quite fun, too.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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