Back

Interview with five time Olympic rowing gold medallist Steve Redgrave ahead of London 2012 – Edited Transcript

redgrave1
 
Interview with five time Olympic rowing gold medallist SIR STEVE REDGRAVE
ahead of London 2012 – Edited Transcript   
 
Material on the Laureus website is available for print media use free of charge provided full credit is given, for example…. ‘Sir Steve Redgrave speaking to Laureus.com’
 
Question
You’ve competed in a number of Olympic Games.  What were your memories of the first time you travelled to Los Angeles?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
I hadn’t done a great deal of travelling beforehand, just a few international regattas within Europe with the World Championships tending to be in Europe most years.  So, the first time I actually went to America was for the Olympics.  We became favourites to win about six, seven weeks beforehand, and so being selected to go to your first Olympics, favourites to win, and then going to Los Angeles and Hollywood and the razzmatazz of the whole Games, was very special indeed. 
 
Question
What were your memories of the athlete’s villages and do any special moments stick in your mind? 
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
Each village has a slightly different design with different cultures from the different countries that they’re hosting.  But basically the villages are cramming in something like 10,000 athletes and looking after them for the two or three weeks.  Some athletes will stay for the whole four weeks that the village is open.  The eating halls are just absolutely massive, there’s food 24 hours a day and that’s one of the things that takes you by surprise in some ways, because normally, when you go to international regattas or World Championships, you say in a hotel.  You may be in a hotel just as your team, or there may be one or two other teams in the same hotel as well and there tends to be set eating times and that whole process.  But at the Games, if you want to go and eat because of boredom or anything like that, you can do. Actually that can be one of the downsides, because you are waiting around, your training has tapered down, you’ve got time on your hands.  A lot of boredom is that you tend to sit in the catering halls for a bit longer than you should do, and end up eating more than you should.  So, you’ve got to be pretty disciplined of what you’re going to eat from that point of view.  But rowing is pretty lucky in that it’s in the first week of the Games, so you can be really single-minded and sort of hide yourself away in your own little bubble, and then, once the rowing is all finished, we’ve got the joy of going around and watching the other sports compete, as well as letting our hair down and having a little bit of fun.  There’s an unwritten code of conduct within the Games that that doesn’t actually happen in the village itself.  But the swimmers tend to finish before most other sports because their individual discipline is over in one day, or they have heats on one day and the final the next day and then they find all the good places to go and party.  And so, when the rowing finishes we go and find the swimmers because they’ve always found the good parties by then. 
 
Question
Did you make any friends in any of the athlete’s villages with competitors from other countries and other disciplines?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
In some ways you get to know your sport’s competitors much better than even the members of your own team in different sports.  Because you’re competing against each other on a year to year basis four or five times throughout the season, you tend to know them better than other athletes.  Actually, some of the friends I made from the British team came about once you get back from the Games. You spend a lot more time with them from that point of view than you do in the village, because everyone’s time schedule’s slightly different.
 
Question
Which is the favourite Olympic Games that you’ve taken part in?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
It’s really difficult.  I won a gold medal at every Games I went to, so there isn’t one that I sort of think ‘oh that’s not so good because I didn’t do very well’.  But, in some ways, they have their own character, and it’s not just about that day, it’s about the whole process and a build-up to that over the four years. I’m a father of three and if you said ‘which is your favourite child’, it’s really difficult to answer.  Politically you’re supposed to say they’re all the same and all have an even footing, but they all behave differently at different times.  And it’s their own personality that comes out of that, and in some ways that’s what the Olympics is about.  Each one has its own personality.  It’s not just about that day of the final, and winning the race, and being on the rostrum, it’s the four years build-up, the highs and lows that gives its own identity in some ways. 
 
Question
You were involved with London’s bid for the Olympic Games.  What are your memories of the campaign? 
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
When I came back from Sydney I was taken out for afternoon coffee with the Chief Executive and the Chairman of the British Olympic Association, and they asked me if I would want to get involved with the bid for London 2012.  This is in November of 2000, and of course, the Olympics has been my life since I was a 14 year old. Having the opportunity to try to bring the Games to this country,  I was certainly going to get involved and be part of that, but 2012 just seemed such a long way away. Now we’re talking about being weeks away from the Games itself.  It’s very exciting from that point of view.
We tried to do something a little bit different. The biggest moan about the Olympics is about the material legacy.  For the Games you could build stadiums, much bigger, but what do you do with them afterwards?  There are a lot of stadiums around the world from Olympic cities that never really been used as they should be.  So, London 2012 is all about a usable legacy and I think that’s one of the things that the IOC sort of picked up on and I thought that we made a big step forward in that respect.  Basically, if it didn’t have a 25 year programme afterwards, we weren’t going to build it.  So, a lot of our stadiums are temporary, and that’s actually more
expensive to build in the first place, but actually then you don’t have to maintain buildings that are not going to be used afterwards.  So, it was all about usable legacy, and I think that’s one of the memories I take forward. 
 
Question
Your biggest rivals were France, the Paris 2012 bid.  Were you surprised that London won, or were you always confident that the compelling nature of the legacy was going to see you over the finishing line first? 
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
There were nine cities that were bidding, five were short listed.  Actually, in the IOC’s minds, with those five cities, the Olympics were in very safe hands of New York, Madrid, Moscow, Paris and London. Whichever one the Games went to; they weren’t that worried about it. 
I felt that Paris had the better bid four years earlier, and probably should have got the Games instead of Beijing.  Paris’s main village was further away from the stadium and the IOC like that to be quite close, and quite intimate in some ways; they’d lost the land that they had four years earlier and had to move away.  So, technically, I felt that we had the better bid, but it doesn’t always go with the better technical side.  Yes, the final round was between us and Paris, but we came very close to going to Madrid in a few weeks time instead of London or Paris. Due to the complexities of the voting, it was down to only one IOC member in that third round made the difference of us celebrating a London or Paris Games to a Madrid Games. 
 
Question
You’re involved with London 2012 now.  What’s your role?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
I’m not really that close with LOCOG and the infrastructure of the Games itself.  I’ve been helping this government and the previous government with their human legacy side of the Games.  It’s not just about bringing the Games to this country and having the 26 different sports, the top athletes in all those different disciplines coming to our shores.  It’s really about what you can embrace for young people and moving the next generation on. That’s not just about the next generation of athletes, it’s about inspiring in all sorts of different ways.  And so, I’ve been sort of helping a little bit with the government process of human legacy, and I suppose the strongest element that we’ve brought in is what we call sports makers.  That’s looking for 40,000 young people that will help other people do sports, that may be in the office, maybe with schools, just maybe a group of mates at the pub.  If somebody is taking it upon themselves to organise some fun sporting events, a coach can touch ten, 20, 100 peoples’ lives, maybe over a coaching career, thousands of peoples of lives, and then you’re really talking of a huge human legacy programme left over from 2012.  So, it’s probably the biggest programme that we have been involved with. 
 
Question
East London has undergone a huge transformation since London won.  Have you visited the site in recent weeks or months? 
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
Until recently, I think the last time I visited the Olympic Park was November when I saw the aquatic centre, which was absolutely stunning.  I’ve gone from being on the Board of 2012 Limited for the bid process, and people jotting down sketches of what a stadium may look like, to visiting the aquatic centre. It has two big wings on the side to add greater seating area, which will be taken down after the Games and made more into an intimate arena.  Because, again, you don’t want an 18,000 swimming arena for people training and it’s not very personal from that point of view and not very motivating.  To see that for the first time was really very impressive and I was very proud of being British, and having a little bit of involvement in it, within that bid process. 
 
I was in the stadium recently and it’s the first time I’ve seen it for two and a half years. I was there the week before the lights got hoisted up and connected around the top.  So I’ve seen the lights, standing next to them in the playing field, when it was just sort of a mud building site. Now the track is down with green grass in the middle and the seating area completed and it is very, very impressive indeed.  The sporting legacy that’s obviously going to be left over from that point of view is immense.  But the infrastructure of change as well is the new shopping centre as well.  It has really changed the whole site from where it was before, it’s a huge boost for the economy of that area. 
 
Question
What are you looking forward to most during London 2012? 
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
I think I’m going to enjoy all of it.  The Olympic torch is when the country really galvanises and gets behind the Games, because it is literally a countdown day by day as the torch goes around the country.  That obviously finishes off with July 27 at the starting of the Games.  I’ll be helping the BBC with their commentary for the eight days of the rowing.  There’s a few people there that I really want to see win gold medals, and we’ve got a very, very strong team.  There are 14 events, we’ve qualified for 13 and ten of them won medals at the last World Championships.  It could be our most successful Olympic row team ever.  That goes back to 1908, when our previous strongest team won eight medals, so, hopefully we can beat that with a high percentage of being gold.  But, I’m an ambassador for Team GB as well, so, I have my media pass and my team GB pass, so, I can get to see lots of events.  One of my jobs as an Ambassador is looking after some of the VIP guests, which means I’ve got to take them round watching sport, that’s going to be really difficult for me, a lot of fun! I think probably the best venue is probably track cycling.  I think it’s an amazing atmosphere, they organise the sport really well, put on a really good programme, and obviously it’s one of our strongest sports as well, so, from a British point of view, is that great atmosphere, great drama, but we’ve got a great team as well. 
 
Question
Do you think the Team GB rowing squads need to step up a level or do you think they’re already at a high enough level to be competing for gold?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
The last Games we won two golds, two silvers, two bronze.  The Games before that we won one gold, two silvers.  The Games that I was involved with before that was two golds, one silver.  The Games before that was one gold, one bronze.  1984 was the first time that we won a gold medal since 1948.  As I said already, this team will produce more medals than probably any other rowing team in its British history. 
 
Question
Are there any sports stars, other than perhaps the obvious Usain Bolt and suchlike, that you’re really looking forward to seeing?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
One of the joys about the Olympic Games is that, because there are 26 different sports, you don’t really know who’s going to be the one that’s going to capture the imagination of the public around the world.  There’s always a character that comes out and most of the time we don’t know who it is going to be.  When you’re involved in
the football World Cup or rugby World Cup or major sporting events, we know all our squad almost to a person, so there aren’t really any surprises.  But at the Olympic Games, because there are so many athletes involved, so many countries, so many opportunities to shine, there will be outstanding athletes that will be the face of the Games, but we don’t know who they will beforehand.  It may be Usain Bolt again, as he was four years ago, or Michael Phelps, beating the record of my hero of Mark Spitz, when Mark won seven gold medals, and Michael won eight last time.  There’s so many things like that happening on a day-to-day basis, it’s one of the joys
of the Olympics.  At the Olympics, there is something going on from first thing in the morning until very late at night every day and some world class performances, with world class athletes, for 17 days. That’s what makes the Olympics so special I think.
 
Question
You talk about Mark Spitz being a hero of yours. You’ve probably come to meet him through Laureus, how was that? 
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
I’ve met Mark a number of times and he’s a great guy.  He’s very enthusiastic with the Laureus and the Sport for Good Foundation.  He’s a great individual and I like his company.  Sometimes they say it’s not best to meet your heroes but in his case, he fulfilled it and more. 
 
Question
What captured your imagination about Mark and how did he become your hero?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
In Munich, I was ten, and it was really my first experience of the Olympic Games even though I wasn’t there, I was watching it on TV, and reading about it in the papers.  Mark, by doing so many different events, day after day, was adding to his story.  Somebody can have outstanding performance in one event and then never be seen again for the rest of the Games.  Mark was getting those outstanding performances, winning a gold medal, and then coming back the next day and winning another one, making the total of seven, so it made the story bigger and bigger as the event went on.  People don’t realise that he actually broke the World Record in every event that he won, It wasn’t just about winning the gold medals but being the best performance at that time, which was just incredible. 
 
Question
You’re one of the newest World Sports Academy members with Laureus, how have you found being involved with such a huge organisation?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
I think I am the newest.  It’s very special to be involved, obviously I know a lot of the characters because the Board is made up of the world’s best athletes from their different sports, from years gone by.  To be asked to be involved is pretty special.  The drive, the vision, that Edwin (Moses) sets up as Chairman, really makes the difference. We’re trying to improve people’s lives around the world who are in difficult situations.  Changing people’s lives through sport is something that we’re all very passionate about.  We all have slightly different views, because of where we’ve come from in the world, but we’re united in trying to help people through sport not just to achieve their dreams, but to give them dreams and give them hope and desire to go on and bigger and better things. 
 
Question
How do you think that sport can have an impact on the lives of young people?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
Sport is very visual.  If somebody does something on a sporting field, it’s well documented and recorded and it’s something that young people can aspire to.  It’s much easier than a politician standing up and saying ‘oh, I’m going to go and try and do this’.
 
A few years ago I went out to Zambia which is rated as the second poorest country in the world, and the poverty was absolutely unbelievable to see firsthand.  I knew what I was going to experience but it was the scale that really shocked me. We took some football gear, some balls, and shirts and they’re passionate about their football out there, and the enthusiasm they had was just amazing.  But their football was plastic bags taped together.  They had rocks as their goal posts, little bit more like I had when I was a kid putting jumpers down.  But the way they were playing, formation wise, was very structured, and then we sort of kicked one of these balls onto their pitch and they just went absolutely crazy. To see the joy on their faces shows what sport can do. We’ve still got to have the politicians’ support because that makes a big different to people’s lives. 
 
Question
You’ve done so much since you’ve finished your competitive career.  What’s left for you in terms of ambitions? 
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
Who knows really?  I was looking forward to retirement when I finished in 2000 after Sydney, and having a little bit more time on my hands, maybe playing a little bit more golf, but I’m playing less golf now than I was when I was an athlete.  Once the Games are out the way, this year, perhaps my life may settle down a little bit more. 
 
I’m more determined to be involved in Laureus.  Up until now it’s been pretty difficult because of 2012.  I’m not quite sure of what my long term challenges and goals will be.  I’m still helping other people achieve their dreams. 
 
Question
Do you feel, given how your competitive career went, that you always need to be setting yourself new goals instead of perhaps taking it easy and winding down?
 
Sir Steve Redgrave
I like the idea of taking it easy and winding down, but the fact is that, when you think you can make a difference, when other people ask you if you can get involved and make a difference, then that’s what pushes you. How can I sit around and not do anything when there’s a lot of people in the world that can have a little bit of support from a little bit of my time? I’m very happy to do that.