In Pic above Paul and Gary O’Donovan. Credits - The Telegraph.co.uk
St Patricks day – a day for celebrating all things Ireland, including the fantastic men and women of the country.
We’ve had some fantastic achievements in the world of sport, thanks to the men and women that grew up on our home soil. From Olympic track athlete Sonia O’Sullivan to rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland’s had its fair share of athletic fame. We could literally sit here all day and list our stars, but that will be for another article, today we concentrate on a few stars from the world of water sports!
So, what about water sports?
Surprisingly, even though we reside on an island surrounded by water, we haven’t had many feats in the world of water sports. Maybe it’s too cold in the water over here and people don’t want to get their toes wet.
That being said, we have had some achievements in this field. Today we will be celebrating the men and women of our country that said “f*ck the cold water, I want to win”. The people that didn’t back down when the odds were against them. The people that set the precedent for Irish water sport athletes today.
Although Irish athletes in water sports are few and far between, they make up for the numbers with courage and ambition. By the end of this read, hopefully, some of you will be inspired to brave the waters yourselves with an ambition for gold.
Paul and Gary O’Donovan
Paul and Gary O’Donovan are two brothers that grew up in the village of Aughadown deep in the countryside of West Cork. The boys were raised in a rural setting and often helped their father working on a small dairy farm.
The brothers started rowing from an extremely young age. They both say they have been rowing for as long as they can remember at the Skibbereen rowing club. Their father, Teddy O’Donovan, taught Paul and Gary the ropes and coached them in their early years.
Once the brothers outgrew their fathers coaching, they began taking instruction from Dominic Casey from the rowing club. They described Dominic as a “rowing freak”. The man was obsessed with the sport and pushed the boys to achieve what they have today.
As you will know, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 5 years, Paul and Gary went on to win silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics. They were the first ever rowers to win an Olympic medal for Ireland. The brothers are legends among the rowing community but are still very modest.
Both Gary and Paul shy from the public eye, saying they’d rather keep themselves to themselves, so the recent lockdown has actually been bliss for them apparently. Despite this, they have said that their Olympic career is not over, and they will be trying for gold in the future.
Ellen Keane was Ireland’s youngest ever athlete when she swam in the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. At just 13 years old, she competed impressively, placing sixth in the 100m breaststroke. At the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, she made three finals and her best finish was in the 100m Butterfly final. In 2013, she progressed to reach her first major international podium when she claimed two bronze medals at the IPC World Championships in Montreal.
The following year a few short weeks after completing her Leaving Cert she went on to make three fourth place finishes and swim two lifetime bests at the European Championships in Eindhoven. At the IPC World Championships in Glasgow in 2015, Ellen secured a bronze medal after a fantastic finish in the 200m Individual Medley final (SM9) where she also set a new lifetime best time.
Ellen also represented Ireland at the 2016 IPC Swimming European Open Championships where she secured two lifetime best swims. Rio was Ellen’s third Paralympic Games and saw her make the podium claiming a brilliant bronze medal in the final of the SB8 100m Breaststroke. She also swam lifetime bests finishing eighth in each of the S9 100m Backstroke and Butterfly finals.
It was in 2018 at the World European Para-Swim Championships, when the Dublin native was the star of the show. Ellen added to her long list of honours with a gold and bronze. In the 200m Individual Medley, Ellen finished third with a time of 2.40.64, two days later Ellen was roared on by a packed NAC when she won Ireland’s only gold in the 100m breaststroke, which was a dominant display by the swimming superstar.
Ellen added a bronze medal to her tally at the World Para Swimming Championships in London with a season’s best performance and a time of 1:22:42 in the 100m breaststroke SB8. This performance saw Ellen named on the RTÉ Sport Awards 2019 Sportsperson of the Year alongside team mate Nicole Turner.
From Clontarf, the 25 year old is currently studying Culinary Entrepreneurship in DIT Aungier Street. Ellen was born without part of her left arm below her elbow.
David HorkanDavid Horkan is a professional kayaker from Ireland. He is one of the countries best and has a passion for all things kayaking, whether that is tackling whitewater, battling Atlantic swells, or racing long-distance. He is committed to pushing himself harder and further on the water and although he has never won an Olympic medal like the O’Donovan brothers, he has had some epic achievements.
David has put paddle to water across the globe and has been lucky enough to kayak in some of the most desirable kayaking and canoeing destinations in the world. Patagonia, Canada, the USA, Antarctica, Australia, and most of Europe are just a few of the places that David has visited for kayaking.
Aside from his extensive travels, David Horkan holds some impressive records. He holds the fastest crossing time of the North Channel in the Irish sea (3 hours and 11 minutes), has completed four Devizes to Westminster races, and come 5th in the 111-kilometer Hawksbury Classic in Australia.
David also completed a 1100km expedition with teammate Joe Leach around Vancouver Island in Canada. In June 2016, they attempted to break the current record of 12 days 23 hours and 45 minutes. Sadly, they failed this challenge. Although they started well, bad weather pushed them back and, in the end, they completed the journey in 14 days 20 hours and 51 minutes. Even though this is two days off the record, they are the fastest overseas paddlers to complete the journey.
David is still a passionate kayaker with a drive to do more. He is currently a kayaking guide and coach as well as an athlete. Although he is yet to achieve world champion status, he is well on his way.
Michelle Smith De BruinMichelle Smith De Bruin won four Olympic medals for Ireland at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic games. Born in December 1969, the 26-year-old (at the time) became Ireland’s first successful female Olympian to bring home a gold medal.
She began swimming competitively at the age of 13 and worked hard to become one of Irelands premier junior swimmers. In pursuit of her dream to compete on an international level, Michelle moved overseas to the USA to attend school and swim training at the University of Houston. Here, her training started to pay off as her times improved. She went on to join the Irish Olympic teams in 1988 and 1992, but sadly, was eliminated in the preliminary rounds.
In 1994, Michelle Smith moved to the Netherlands with her coach and husband Erik de Bruin to prepare herself for the 1996 Olympic games. Over the next two years she improved dramatically, emerging as an elite athlete in 1995 winning the 200-metre butterfly and medley at the European championships. From here, she homed in her skills further and went on to attend the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games.
In only one week Michelle won 3 Olympic gold medals and one bronze medal for Ireland. Previously, Ireland had only five Olympic gold medals under its belt with none of these achieved by an Irish woman.
Unfortunately, her reputation was later tarnished by claims that she had been using performance-enhancing drugs. In spite of this, Smith did pass all the pre- and post-Olympic drug tests. Two years passed and in 1998 she received a 4-year ban for tampering with a urine sample during a drug test. She appealed and claimed innocents but unfortunately failed and the ban stood.
Michelle was never stripped of her Olympic medals because she never tested positive for any banned substances. It’s still unclear why she tampered with her urine samples, but whatever you believe, her achievements are undeniably epic.
Jenny EganJenny Egan grew up in Dublin. She first sat in a canoe when she was 3 years old and did her first race in England when she was 8 years old! Canoeing is in Jen’s blood as her mother and father were keen paddlers too.
Her parents pushed her to do her best at what she loved, and that was competitive canoeing. When she was younger, she travelled around the UK to compete in Canoe sprint and marathons. She quickly became the under 14 K1 British National Champion in both sprint and marathon.
By the age of 15 she knew exactly what she wanted to do and stopped partaking in other sports to concentrate primarily on canoeing. She went on to compete in a range of events winning many national and international medals, but her biggest feat was taking home bronze for Ireland during the 2018 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships.
Jennifer has big dreams and is overly ambitious. She wants to go on and win more major international medals for canoeing and is currently qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (postponed due to corona virus).