Five-time gold medal winner Steve Redgrave now living his new Olympic dream

It’s the question everyone asks. British rowing legend and Laureus Academy Member Steve Redgrave won five Olympic gold medals at five Olympiads from Los Angeles in 1984 to Sydney in 2000, so which was the most memorable one?

Steve is happy to answer. In a wide-ranging interview with, on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, he says: “Whichever way you look at it, each game is very special. It's four years of your life that's gone into preparing for it, dreaming about it, trying to get there and then it happens in many different ways."


“If I do this and can tick that box if I can do this training if I can compare in this way if I do this and this, does that give me a gold medal? No. It doesn't. There are so many other factors involved. Each game has its own personality. But if I'm really, really pushed, it would be the first one. 


“You have this dream to be an Olympic champion. The first time I've been to America was at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. The razzmatazz of Hollywood; how special it was. It was like living a dream. And then to be an Olympic gold medallist at the end of it, well your dreams become reality.”


Steve was widely quoted for a comment he made after he and Matthew Pinsent had won the coxless pairs at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics – his fourth gold medal. Interviewed moments after they crossed the line, he famously said: ‘If anyone sees me going anywhere near a boat again, they have my permission to shoot me.’


No one shot him, and four years later he was on the water in Sydney, ready to make history. As he explains: “With all the emotion going on, some people say some strange things.”


If Los Angeles was Steve’s most memorable Olympics, for his daughter, and possibly most people in sport, certainly in the United Kingdom, it was Sydney.

You have this dream to be an Olympic champion. The first time I've been to America was at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. The razzmatazz of Hollywood; how special it was. It was like living a dream. And then to be an Olympic gold medallist at the end of it, well your dreams become reality.

Steve Redgrave
He says:
“My eldest daughter was 30 a few days ago, she's a surgeon now, but she was in Sydney, she was nine at the time. After Sydney, when she was back at school, they had to answer some questions: ‘what's your favourite city - Sydney; what was your favourite time - the Sydney Olympics’. So suddenly I'm reading something totally different.
“Of course I was dreaming big, but I was just not aware of the impact it made. I can remember crossing the finishing line and laying back in the boat and James [Cracknell] grabbing me. I'm gasping for air, my legs are aching, it hurts a lot, but I’m thinking this is going to last for five or ten minutes but I'm going to be five-time Olympic champion for the rest of my life. I can put up with a little bit of pain.
“Building up to Sydney everyone was talking about me going for five Olympic gold medals – ‘Steve Redgrave always wanted five gold medals!’ Which wasn't true. I remember watching my fellow Laureus Academy Member Mark Spitz win his seven gold medals at Munich as a ten-year-old and each one in world record time, and I thought ‘wouldn't it be fantastic just to win one!’”

Three years ago Steve became high-performance director of Chinese rowing. He says he was given a  blank canvass. “We talked about trying to make China the No.1 rowing country which it has the potential to be, but up until that time I think they'd won 12 world championship gold medals and most of them not in Olympic categories, and only one Olympic gold medal and that was on home water at the Shunyi rowing lake in Beijing in 2008.


“At the first world championships I was involved in, China won one gold medal but in a non-Olympic event and then two years ago they won the women's quadruple sculls, the same category that they won in Beijing, to make them favourites to win the Tokyo Olympics last year. Also, we had a men's heavyweight double: that's the first heavyweight men's crew that has won the world championships anywhere from Asia. So that was a big, big step up.


“We did have a race in Lucerne in the World Cup too and both of those boats won: the women's quad very comfortably, so they continue to put themselves on the map as the crew to beat in Tokyo in a few day’s time, and the men's double won as well. Obviously, I'm hoping that they can be the first Asian heavyweight crew to win in the Olympic Games which would be pretty special. If we can pull off two Olympic gold medals that would be pretty impressive.


“We did have a lot of the other women rowers in lots of boats, but just before the last qualifying event in Switzerland two months ago, we decided to put them all into an eight and for some reason, it's gone really well and they've put themselves in contention of winning a medal. 


“To win a medal in an eight in China would be huge. Winning a medal in the women's eighth will be bigger than winning a gold medal in one of the other events and that's how highly they rank the eights events. So it's exciting times.


“Racing starts the morning of the Opening Ceremony. If we can win three medals that would be pretty amazing. China has never won three rowing medals at one Game and if it can be two golds or even three – I can dream - that would be an amazing stepping stone,” said Steve.


Because of lockdown, Steve has been away from the UK since September apart from two weeks in Switzerland which has disrupted his support for diabetes charities. 


“For my own health, it's been quite good. The diet that the athletes are on is pretty bland and they don't tend to have very much sweet things, which I've got a very sweet tooth for, so that's something that I miss greatly, but control of my diabetes is much better. I'm nearly back to my racing weight which most people thought I'd never see ever again, so I'm reasonably pleased with my own health. 


“But since Covid, it's been really difficult to be involved with family, friends and also the charities that I'm involved in. I haven't been able to play the same role as I have done when I was in the UK,” says Steve.

He remains committed and as active as possible under the circumstances with Laureus. “Sport has made a huge difference in our lives and that's why we're so passionate about the work that Laureus does through Sport for Good. We're involved in so many projects across the world, and it's not just about sport having that opportunity to change people’s lives, in some cases, it’s the difference between life and death. And when you put it in those terms, it’s hugely motivating.


“Nelson Mandela, our first Patron, said that sport can change the world and we all believe that and we have to keep driving that forward and making sure that message gets through to every aspect in every part of the globe to make sure that people have better lives from our experiences.”



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