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Gary and Paul stay on course

O'Donovan brothers' focus is firmly on Olympic glory

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FAMOUS DAY: Paul and Gary O’Donovan celebrate after finishing second in the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls A final during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAMOUS DAY: Paul and Gary O’Donovan celebrate after finishing second in the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls A final during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

FAMOUS DAY: Paul and Gary O’Donovan celebrate after finishing second in the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls A final during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

In an isolated cottage in West Cork, Gary and Paul O'Donovan are putting in the hard yards and still dreaming about winning an Olympic gold medal.

Ireland's most famous rowing siblings haven't touched water since returning to Ireland after a training camp in Spain in early March. But rowing is one of the few sports where some of the best conditioning work can be done in the privacy of your own home.

"As soon as we came back from Spain we had to go into quarantine for two weeks so came to west Cork and rented a small cottage and we got our hands on two rowing machines and luckily they're relatively easy to move around. After the two weeks the whole isolation thing came in so we have stayed put since," explained Gary.

A rowing machine is probably the best piece of exercise equipment on the planet for training, according to the older of the siblings, particularly as it is possible to glean more accurate information about the condition of athletes from working on it than on the water.

Much has changed in the dynamic of the relationship between the pair, who came from virtually nowhere to win the silver medal in the lightweight double sculls at the Rio Games in 2016.

Lost place

Last year, Gary lost his place in the boat to Skibeereen clubmate Fintan McCarthy, who together with Paul Donovan won the gold medal at the World championships in Austria last Autumn and qualified the boat for the Tokyo Olympics, now rescheduled for July 2021.

However, the composition of the crew which will occupy the boat at the Olympics has yet to be determined.

While Gary agrees that the new scenario puts him under more pressure, he insists that it doesn't make a huge difference to him that Fintan was in the boat last year.

"My goal is to win the Olympics. How do I do that? I do all the training that is necessary to make me as strong as possible.

"There are five lightweight guys training regularly but whether they are there or not, I still have to do the necessary training to be in a position to win the Olympics."

The postponement of the Tokyo Games has enabled Paul - who celebrated his 26th birthday on Sunday, to resume his medical studies in University College, Cork, who awarded him a scholarship in 2018.

"I took a break at Christmas but I'm back studying now. After the Olympics were cancelled I got on to UCC and they were very good at liaising with the medical school.

"They have allowed me to resume because they have put a load of material up online because they had to close down all the classes.

"I have been able to get through it and I will sit the exams in August," said Paul, who already has a physiotherapy degree from UCD and is now in his second year of an accelerated medical degree."

Gary's college days are over - at least for the moment. He has a degree in marketing but hasn't any definite idea about his life beyond rowing.

"You could call me a full time athlete these days. I have a lot of ideas like going back studying or travelling or maybe going working.

"I have lots of options but nothing nailed down."

Always the more loquacious of the pair, his sense of mischief is never far from the surface. When I suggest that he has more spare time on his hands that Paul, he launches into a lyrical description of life within the permitted two-kilometre radius of their rented cottage.

"I prefer wandering around looking at the grass and the trees and checking out the views.

"There is some lovely scenery down here in West Cork. I have just to walk across a field and up on a hill and I'm looking out on Roaringwater Bay, Whitehall Castle and Sherkin Island."

Reflecting on what they achieved in Rio, he suggests they were greenhorns four years ago.

"It was trial and error, naivety and stupidity that got us the success. It is a bit more calculated now. And just think in four more years how much better we can be and how more refined our programme can be because the team around us will be better too," he suggests.