Paul O'Donovan busts the cliches and leaves the mystery behind him in one more emphatic interview
Paul O'Donovan is not here to make headlines. Paul O'Donovan is here to win races.
It's unfair to call the two-time Olympic medallist a mysterious, stand-offish character based on interviews alone but as he gives little away and occasionally, appears underwhelmed standing over a microphone, it's the type of thing that leaves you wondering.
After an honest chat with Peter Collins on RTÉ, it's clear that we were the ones at fault for that one.
O'Donovan didn't leave us wondering on Thursday morning as, only a couple of hours after winning an Olympic gold medal with his double sculls partner Fintan McCarthy, he was as open as you've ever seen him. As usual, the cliched 'how does it feel' and 'what does it mean' questions were swatted away with typically clever, witty and notably literal answers but it was only when Peter Collins stepped up with the cliche of all cliches, the monumental belter of a 'has it sank in yet' banker when, in emphatic fashion, O'Donovan showed his true colours.
It never really sinks in says the Skibbereen rower, who, with the arms moving and the eyes wide open, discarded the frills, the hype and the headlines of the show-business side of sport by distilling competition to its simplest form. It's great to race, it's even better to win but as day becomes night, it's nothing if you didn't enjoy the journey, from one day to the next, that brought you there. The Olympic gold medal is an honour and it's a sign of a lifetime's toil but you get the sense that, without it, O'Donovan would still be the same man living the same life.
"I don't know does it sink in really," he said matter-of-factly.
"I think people think that people think you'd be more excited than you actually are but from my experience - I won a medal at the last Olympics and won one or two World Championships - listen it's fine, and you're very happy winning and stuff but at the end of the day then, you forget about it, and kind of get on with life."
From there, it seemed as if O'Donovan was back to his half-joking style as he honed in on evolution and the passage of time but even at that, as he shook his head at the titles that will now follow his every move, it suddenly became clear that this man is in the boat because that's where he wants his life to be, not for the places it can bring him. Steak and spuds and pulling like dogs might have made the headlines and led us to the conclusion we wanted that this was a comedian in waiting but five years on, it's all a bit clearer now.
"Like this 'not many Irish people have won gold medals thing,' and this and that, that's nice for headlines and you're trying to introduce us like that, but the fact of it is just that we were born early in the history of time. I mean, in a million years from now, we'll have a lot more gold medallists in the Olympic games so that's not really down to us and our training. We can't really take credit for that at all, it's just a bit of luck with being born when we were more than anything."
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) July 29, 2021
It's certainly a lot more than a bit of luck that has brought O'Donovan and McCarthy to the very peak of their sport but as he explained and gestured his way past the usual cliches, it's clear that the hype and hysteria to come won't change Paul O'Donovan from the man he is.