When it comes to listing famous British Olympians, one of the first names that will come to mind is rowing legend Sir Steve Redgrave. The last of his five gold medals came at Sydney in 2000, four years after stating, ‘Anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me’. Not only did he put in years and years of training after but his medal-winning feat in Sydney came against the backdrop of being diagnosed with diabetes in 1997.
He was part of the successful bid to bring the Olympics to London and has been spending time mentoring the athletes who will be part of this year’s efforts to bring back more medals. He speaks to The London Word about what we can expect from London 2012, swimming and the legacy that the games will leave.
How is everything progressing with the Games?
‘Very well. In my area, I’m very happy with how everything is coming together. Obviously you don’t want to peak too early. The rowing team had the recent meet in Lucerne. We won three golds, one silver and one bronze, which is a great performance, the best of any nation in the competition – and yet I’m disappointed because our standards are so high. But I’d rather have that disappointment now than in the first four days of August.
‘The women’s pair and double scull look well on their game, the men’s four are favourites with the Aussies snapping at their heels, and the men’s lightweight double and lightweight coxless four still have great chances. All five of those boats could take gold on their day.’
What is your involvement with the Olympic team?
‘I’m busy managing them, making sure that they keep their focus because rowing is a very single-minded sport. And there is an inherent contradiction with rowing with trying to maintain a singular vision as part of a collective goal. But the spirits are good and we’re very hopeful of achieving a lot of medals at the Games.
What do you think will be the legacy of the Olympics in London?
‘A lot has been said about the legacy and the lasting impact that having the Olympics here will have. We feel very strongly about this and it was something that was at the forefront of our bid. Having the Games here is aimed at improving the infrastructure. We’ve got a 25-year business plan for making sure that we make the most of the opportunity that the Games will provide. You only have to look at examples of previous Olympic Games such as Greece where their facilities are no longer used.’
There has been a lot of cynicism about the Olympics, mainly due to the amount of money spent. Do you think this will change once the Games start?
‘A lot has been said about the amount of money that has been spent, especially given that it’s a lot of the taxpayer’s money. But I think it’s important to stress that we’re getting money from other areas and that the public money spent is going towards creating long-lasting projects.’
When did you first become interested in the Olympics?
‘It would have been the Olympic Games in 1972. I would have been 10 years old at the time and it was still another eleven years before I would start rowing.’
If you could compete in another Olympic event other than rowing, which would it be?
‘Having been to the cycling amphitheatre, I would probably say cycling. But I’m also a big fan of swimming, having got to know Mark Spitz, one of the big medal winners at the 1972 Games.’
Didn’t he win seven gold medals?
‘Yes he did. I remember being sent out to collect the newspapers and milk from the bottom of our drive at home, and my eye being caught by the Daily Mirror headline as I carried it back to the house. ‘SPITZ FOR SIX’ was splattered all over the back page. He wanted to be the first athlete in any sport to win six gold medals in one Olympic Games, and the idea completely captured my imagination – this guy, day after day, getting more and more gold medals. I was inspired by the thought: “Wouldn’t it be great to win one!”‘
Sir Steve Redgrave was talking as part of the partnership with the British Olympic Association (BOA) and British Paralympic Association (BPA) with BP around ‘Our Greatest Team Legends Collection’, a limited edition series of collectable medallions representing the winning moments of 12 British Olympic and Paralympic legends. Matt Pinsent is the latest one to be released.