A champion career
He’s one of only four athletes ever to win five consecutive Olympic gold medals – yet Sir Steve Redgrave almost stopped himself going for his monumental fifth title.
After his fourth Olympic triumph in Atlanta 1996, he famously said: ‘If anyone sees me near a boat again they can shoot me.’ Yet he was back on the water within days and four years later stormed to victory in Sydney 2000.
What compelled Sir Steve to keep going back again and again? He’s certainly no stranger to adversity. His battle with diabetes led to doubts that he would make the start-line in Sydney. Yet his determination to succeed drove his bid to go for the historic fifth gold medal.
To be in the presence of Britain’s greatest Olympian is somewhat overwhelming. At 6’5 he towers above me; the oarsman’s physique that powered the boat to victory still remains, eleven years on. In person, Sir Steve is warm and relaxed. He recalls his Olympic achievements with great passion and a huge smile. “I’d love to do it all again,” he admits.
How does it feel to be Olympic champion?
The first time [Los Angeles, 1984] was unreal. You have a dream to become Olympic champion, you dedicate your whole life to it, and suddenly it’s reality. You work so hard for one day – and I hadn’t thought about what was going to happen afterwards.
For the rest of them [Seoul ’88; Barcelona ’92; Atlanta ’96 and Sydney 2000] my emotions were more stable. You enjoy the moment but you have to put that feeling on the shelf. You’ve got what you wanted, it’s fantastic, but you have to ask yourself, ‘what am I going to do now?’ I did that five times.
What did it take to get it so right 5 times?
It wasn’t until after Sydney when people said to me, ‘I can’t believe you’ve been able to get it right one day every four years, five times over’.
I was rather blasé about it at the time – but I look back now and realise that there was an element of luck involved as well as lot of hard work.
How did you get over tough spots in your career?
When things are going well, you tend to look at the bigger picture – standing on the Olympic rostrum, for example. If your job’s not going well, and you feel like giving it all in, you have to change your mindset. How can I complete this one task to the best of my ability?
Having the big goal of the Olympics once every four years was great, but three years of training is a grind. When you’re training in the depths of winter, the water’s freezing and there’s ice forming on your neck – you question why you’re doing it.
Little goals are really important. We had six-monthly assessments. We wanted to do well in those, so we worked hard for those. If you find a task is too much of a grudge, chop it up into smaller pieces to make it more manageable. It’s a pride thing – work hard for the little goals to get a real sense of achievement.
How important is it to enjoy what youre doing?
I have a 50% rule. If you’re not enjoying yourself more than 50%, it’s time to find something you love. If you’re not enjoying your career then what’s the point?
That’s not to say you need to enjoy everything every day of your life. When we were on the water training, some days it was really tough. Some days I didn’t want to be out there. But thinking ahead to the Olympics really inspired me to keep going.