The coronation of Ireland’s Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy as Olympic champions took just over six minutes on a blazing sunny day in Tokyo Bay.
As the pair flashed past the stands at the finish line in the Olympic Arena at Sea Forest Waterway to win the gold medal in the lightweight double sculls, they also entered the history books as the first Irish rowers to do so in their sport.
Their win was also the first gold medal Ireland has won at the Olympic Games since Katie Taylor’s boxing triumph at London 2012.
The ban on spectators and the request for clapping rather than shouting, as Japan struggles with the pandemic, was not lost on the gathering of Irish officials and athletes.
Still, the loud shrieks from the stand at the finish line as the pair crossed half a boat ahead of the German crew, who had led for most of the race, were unmistakably Irish.
The 24-year-old McCarthy and 27-year-old O’Donovan turned to each other and shook hands after a breathless race of catch up and then overtake in the final 500m stretch of the 2km course.
“Yeah, I was definitely relieved when crossing the line. It was just nice that things went to plan,” said the younger partner McCarthy.
Both champions come from the Skibbereen Club in West Cork, which has now become the spiritual home of rowing in Ireland.
McCarthy and O’Donovan are also the world champions and positioned at the apex of the sport globally.
“You could see the young people are getting excited, buying into it [rowing] a bit more, training a bit harder,” said O’Donovan. “We saw it coming into these Olympics, our biggest team ever, all young athletes and we’ve two medals now, instead of one medal from Rio 2016].”
O’Donovan won the silver medal in Rio with his brother Gary but because of the hugely competitive environment in Irish rowing, McCarthy earned the seat to compete with O’Donovan, a four-time world champion.
The team will fly out from Tokyo on Sunday. On board will be a pair of historic gold medals and historic bronze medals after Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty became the first Irish women to medal in rowing at an Olympics in the women’s four.