Sir Steve Redgrave ()Sir Steve Redgrave () © Copyright

Been there, won that - Sir Steve Redgrave

The most successful rower in Olympic history talks gold medals, team-mates and his lesser-known success in a bobsleigh.

Mark Spitz had a big impact on me. I was ten when he got his seven gold medals in Munich in 1972 and I fancied winning a medal at an Olympic games. But I also had the dream that I would play in the FA Cup final and score the winning goal. That one hasn’t happened yet.

The head of English at my secondary school started a boat club and asked a few people if they wanted to give it a go. Getting the opportunity to do extra sport during school hours was a no-brainer for me; I wasn’t the brightest at school. We rowed in a coxed four. We entered seven races in that first year and won all seven. 

The first gold medal was my dream of being an Olympic champion becoming a reality and that’s a pretty special feeling. Most of the games I was at after [Los Angeles 1984] we were favourites to win, so you’ve got that extra expectation on you. We won the last one in Sydney [2000] by 0.38 seconds. In Barcelona [1992] we won by five seconds and the others were all somewhere in between. When you cross the line after four years’ of training and competition there’s a release of physical and mental exhaustion.

After winning in Atlanta, I said if anyone saw me near a rowing boat again they could shoot me. That feeling lasted about 24 hours. The Olympics in Atlanta [1996] didn’t really push all the right buttons for me, it wasn’t well organised for the athletes. But I’d always enjoyed Australia and Australian sporting culture, so I started thinking that would be a great place to finish my career.

There’s a bond between the people you row with; you spend a hell of a lot of time together. You don’t have to be best mates but that helps. Matthew [Pinsent] and I are extremely good mates. I’m godfather to one of his twins and he’s godfather to my eldest. I spent more time with him than I did my wife and we trained as hard as we did to make sure that even on bad days we should still win.

You have to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t, you’re not going to put the same vigour, determination and focus into it. That doesn’t mean you have to enjoy every training session but if you’re not enjoying it more than half of the time then I suggest you go and find something else. 

I have a British bobsleigh title as well – it’s a good pub quiz question. A guy called Larry Tracey set up the Irish bobsleigh team and took me out for lunch after a very bad rowing season in 1985, when I was considering giving up the sport. He said, “Why don’t you come and push me at the Irish Bobsleigh Championships?” I always fancied going to a winter games as well. I was the push start coach for the Irish team for a while and then in 1989 I was part of the four-man team that won the British Championships.

When you’re travelling to an Olympics on the other side of the world you can feel quite isolated. The idea of the Team GB fan club and our ‘Bring on the Great’ campaign is to help the athletes feel as much support from back here as possible.

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