Soon after Irish lightweight single sculler Paul O'Donovan won a World Championship Friday on a humid Sarasota FL day, he was trying to catch his breath and keep the sweat dripping off his face from falling onto the microphone of a television reporter interviewing him.
O'Donovan was clearly having a hard time doing both. World Championship medal ceremonies are very different from those conducted at an Olympics, where athletes have time to cool down, hydrate, and compose themselves before going to a medal ceremony – in Rio, they even get time to change into special podium pants, as O'Donovan noted in one of his legendary TV interviews in Rio.
It's not like that at a World Championships, where races end, athletes row to the awards dock, get out of their boats and walk to a staging area where they do their best to keep standing and talking, and in some cases not throw up or pass out, while races continue to stream down the course. There just isn’t time for taking a moment.
Still, the spontaneity and drama of a World Championship medal ceremony scrum - where athletes representing countries from around the world are all crammed together and are being rushed by hurried reporters and race organizers to get through the post-race routine and onto the award dock - is more of a celebration of good humor and international sportsmanship than anything else.
And the Irish athletes, led by O'Donovan, who won a silver medal with his brother Gary in the lightweight double in Rio and who both together then won the hearts of all of Ireland (and beyond) with their easy humor, handled the first day of post finals racing in Nathan Benderson Park at the 2017 World Rowing Championship in top form.
"I'm happy with the race," O'Donovan said. "T'was a nice race, and it was lovely weather too. I enjoyed some of that while I was racing. We're not used to that in Ireland."
He managed to get that line out as Shane O'Driscoll of the Irish light men's pair ran off of the medal dock just after getting his gold medal for winning his event, threw his arms around O'Donovan's head, waved his medal in front of the single sculler's eyes, and yelled:
"Paulie, boyo, you're a good man. Have you got one of these?"
There was nothing staged or fake about it, and it was one of dozens of similar moments that took place in the shadow of the finish line tower that were repeated over and over as the first seven races of the championships.
Here are a few others:
Hungarian Adrian Juhasz holding his one-year-old daughter Daisy while waiting to get his gold medal for a victory in the men's coxed pair and talking about his race through an interpreter, but looking at the little girl instead of the reporter - "It was a big surprise . . . we prepared for this and we are really delighted with this result."
Or the French and British lightweight men's quad crews that won gold and silver medals swapping seats so there were two of each rowing their boats away from the medal dock after the ceremony.
US Rio Olympic silver medal women's sculler Gevvie Stone running down the ramp to hug US lightweight women's bronze medalist Mary Jones as she walked to the ceremony waiting area before her medal event; Jones and Stone trained together in Boston.
The Greek men's lightweight quad going bonkers with various photo opportunities with a giant edition of the Greek flag while waiting to be called to the medal dock.
Or one winning crew after another shaking hands and embracing each other. And the Italian lightweight quad crew mugging funny for the camera. They were all unprepared, natural moments of international sportsmanship and good fun. And there are two more days of such scenes to come as the racing moves from semifinals to medal races and lesser level finals.
There are 26 events in a World Championships, and there are 20 more left to play out on Saturday and Sunday.
Friday's medal races began with the legs, trunk and arms mixed para rowing double, now termed the PR3 Mixed Double. Brazil's Jairo Klug and Dianna Barceos De Oliveria won the gold, France took silver, and Germany was third.
"It was a hard race," said Klug. "We had a high start and when we reached the middle of the race, it was harder, and then the final 500-meters we had a better row and increased the speed of the boat. We're very happy. It's very exciting because it is our first world championships. We ae so proud to win this medal and we are proud to wear it."
The US crew of Russell Gernaat and Natalie also rowed in the final and finished fifth after snagging a buoy in the early going that forced them to stop and repoint their hull. "We had a great start, and after that (catching the buoy), we were able to recover and finish the rest of the race the way we wanted to," Gernaat said.
"We were going well, and I felt overall had we put all that together we might have had a chance at fourth place," he said.
"It was a tough race, and we had a tough couple strokes there, but we really got it back and it really lit a fire under me," stroke seat McCarthy said. "It really motivated me to pull hard and feel like I left it all on the water today. I think this will be my last international race for a while, as I am going to take a little break, so it feels great to have made it this far, hang up the oars on a high note for a time, and feel really good about having left it all out there."
The para race was followed by the men's coxed pair, which was won by Hungary's Juhasz, Bela Simon, Jr. and coxswain Andrea Vanda Kollath. Australia was second and Germany was third.
Men's Lightweight Pair
Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan won the first Irish gold medal of the afternoon in the lightweight men's pair, followed by Italy in second and Brazil in third. The US entry with Alex Twist and John Devlin placed sixth.
"That was a good start to the morning for Ireland," O'Driscoll said. "It was hot. We don’t have weather like that in Cork. I can't wait to get back to it. I love Florida, but it's been hot. But I do love it today. This is like winning a million dollars.
"That was the toughest race all year. The Italian crew is young, they're the under 23 world champions and they pushed us all the way to the line, which we didn't get all year to be honest."
Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan
Men's Lightweight Single
Paul O'Donovan was originally planning to race the lightweight double with his brother, Gary, but an illness kept Gary from training and Paul switched to the single and raced to gold today. New Zealand's Matthew Dunham took silver and Kristoffer Brun of Norway was third.
"The race was alright there for a while, even, and then I started sprinting at the end to get past the line," O'Donovan said. "I pushed what I had, and I don’t know if I had much more. It's easy to overexert yourself because of the heat," he said.
"It was a positive race for us," he said. "I did the same thing as I do in the in the double," he said when asked if he missed rowing the double with his brother. "We practice the single all the time, the same as we do in the double."
If the stands were full of America fans, there was certainly a fair number of Irish supports in attendance as well. Traditional Irish music could be heard playing on the venue, including when O'Donovan was getting ready for racing.
"We were sitting around for nearly two hours listening to 'trad' before the race," O'Donovan said of his pre-race prep listening to traditional Irish music. "We were listening to pass the time. We're very passionate about our music, and our flag, and our country. It's just pure passion and emotion, and those are very strong things that make you row harder.
"There a lot people here but there are a lot home as well, people all over the country are watching, from the small pubs to the big pubs, ya know. They're supporting us for putting the time and the effort into this and we appreciate it all."
Women's Lightweight Single
South Africa's Kirstin McCann wins the lightweight women's single
South Africa's Kirstin McCann won and Marieke Keijer took silver, but Mary Jones's bronze medal finish in the lightweight women's single race was a crowning moment for Jones and rewarded a season of hard work. After being disappointed in her attempt to make the women's lightweight double for the 2016 Olympic team, Jones focused her 2017 season on the single.
"Starting off the post-Olympic year after not making the lightweight women's double, I really wanted to focus on developing my own speed and my own feel in the single," she said. "So I started off by qualifying in the US and went to Europe to get some international racing experience.
"Going from Poznan to the Holland Beker Regatta, it was really great to race all of the girls I raced here and to use that to develop a plan and execute a full 2000-meter race that culminated with my best race of the year," she said.
Lightweight Men's Quad
France celebrating the lightweight men's quad victory
When the lightweight men's four was dropped from the Olympic schedule after this winter's FISA meetings, lightweight men left with fewer options to international competition flocked to the sculling boats. There were 16 entries in the light men's quad event this year; there were 11 last year and 10 in 2015.
France won gold, followed by Great Britain and then Greece.
"It was a good race and a tough one for us," said Francois Teroin, who rowed in the bow of the French boat. "We prepared for months for this. Without the light four, there were a lot of guys, the entries were very dense. It became more difficult, very dense."
British stroke Gavin Horsburgh agreed.
"As you can see there have been so many more entries since the lightweight four was taken out of the Olympic schedule," he said. "It means that events become a lot more competitive and there was such tight racing, we thought we had it and then we thought we didn't.
"That makes for some really fantastic racing. It's been good to have multiple boats here."
Lightweight Women's Quad
Italian lightweight women's quad gets air time on the medal dock
The Italian entry in the lightweight women's quad was the same crew - Giovanna Schettino, Federica Cesarini, Paolina Piazzolla, and Asja Maregotto - that won the under 23 World Championship. Australia placed second and China third.
"It was a good race, Schettino said. "We don't think we could win because we are all under 23 and so we are very excited," she said.
Speaking through a translator, Cesarini said, "We didn't expect to have such an important result because we are so young and do not have so much experience in the senior level. For all of us, this was the first senior and lightweight world championships, but we understood during the qualifying what we can do in the finals and we won this great gold medal."
Notes from the Course
Olivia Loe, stroke of the NZ women's double, is the daughter of famous – or maybe make that infamous – former All Black and sports radio host Richard Loe.
Celeb launch driver.
The Storky McStorkface plushies given to the medalists made for some entertaining photos for sure; here are a few: 1 | Four more here | Another | A favorite here | and there are a lot more in the Medals gallery.
First-ever medal for an opposite-gender coxswain at Worlds.
After winning light men's pair gold, the Irish duo ran over to the significant Irish fan base doing a jig on the way.
All but general admission tickets are sold out, but if you still want to go, go for it; it's a great scene.
Boats are starting to get wrapped up and put away; two days to go, enjoy it while you can!
Find the Saturday Start List here; see you then!