Athlete of the Month – February 2018
In 2016, Ireland’s Gary O’Donovan and his brother Paul made their way to the top of the competition in the lightweight men’s double sculls. Having mostly raced in B-finals up until 2015, the duo reached the podium at the European Rowing Championship and World Rowing Cup levels during the 2016 season before culminating with Olympic silver in Rio – the first ever Olympic rowing medal for Ireland.
The duo became the toast of Ireland, and of the world, when their post-Olympic final interview went viral with millions of views.
In 2017, Gary’s season did not go to plan and he missed out on the World Rowing Championships due to illness, But he tells World Rowing, from his current training venue at Lake Karapiro in New Zealand, that he will be back in 2018 with big ambitions.
World Rowing: How and when did you discover rowing?
Gary O’Donovan: Dad introduced us to rowing long before we ever took any strokes. We used to travel to regattas and watch the Skibbereen Rowing Club athletes racing around Ireland. We have been around the Rowing Club in Skibbereen for as long as I can remember.
WR: You are the eldest brother. Were you the first to begin to row?
GO: We both started rowing on the same day in August 2001.
WR: What are the advantages/disadvantages of rowing with your brother Paul?
GO: It helps being brothers because we can be brutally honest with each other. I think if we were not brothers we would have to be a bit more polite to each other every now and again.
WR: You missed out on the 2017 World Rowing Championships due to illness. What happened?
GO: I kept falling ill during the summer after Lucerne (World Rowing Cup in July) and I missed a lot of training. The best decision was to let Paul race the single (at the World Rowing Championships). I was able to rest and recover at my own pace following that decision and the health has been good since.
WR: What do you like about fishing? Where and how often do you go?
GO: Shane (O’Driscoll), Paul and myself fish a lot. The challenge of catching fish excites us. We are not the most successful fishermen, sometimes we don’t catch any fish at all. That’s fishing for ya. I guess that’s why they call it 'fishing' and not 'catching'.
WR: When did you learn how to sail?
GO: I like all kinds of boating. My Dad is a shipwright so that is probably why I have such an interest. It can be windy in Ireland from time to time. I often think of erecting a sail on the rowing boat to make life easier.
WR: What are your strengths in rowing?
GO: This is difficult. I guess compared to Paul he has strong legs but I have a strong head to be able to put up with him all the time.
WR: Where do you train?
GO: We train on Inniscarra Lake in Cork mostly. The Irish National Rowing Centre is there and it is a fabulous facility. We have 13km of lake to ourselves. When we go home we train on the Ilen River in Skibbereen. The river is one of the finest pieces of water I've seen.
WR: How do you train during the winter?
GO: A lot of rowing machine. The sunlight hours are short in the winter so we spend time on the rowing machine. Training on the machine can be time efficient to get more things done in the day too.
WR: Who is your coach?
GO: Dominic Casey. He is a patient man. We get on well with Dominic and we always have fun when we are training with him. Sometimes he is very hard on us with the onslaughts of training but we are understanding of this because we know he wants to help us row faster.
WR: Do you work/study outside of rowing?
GO: I graduated after Rio in marketing. And this past year I have been mostly rowing and travelling.
WR: What is one food that is always in your fridge?
GO: A few cans of pop (soft drink) and a pizza is a nice treat to end the day.
WR: What are your goals for 2018?
GO: Try to win more races. All the races actually, if at all possible. That would be good.
WR: How do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
GO: That is a long time away. Ten years ago I would not have been able to predict what I am doing now with 100 per cent accuracy so it is difficult to predict what will happen in ten years. Time will tell I suppose.