Olympics year has arrived, and who better to guide us through the spirit of the global games than five-time champion Sir Steve Redgrave?
Al Gordon meets him…
It’s nearly 12 years since he hung up his oars for the final time but Sir Steve Redgrave, Britain’s Greatest Olympian – a title he should really consider trademarking – admits that a part of him still yearns to compete at London 2012.
“It’s the first Games on home soil since 1948… of course I’d love to be taking part,” he confesses. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these athletes; it’s a privilege few will ever experience, and I can only imagine the euphoria they’ll feel when they step on the winner’s podium. It’ll be incredible.”
And these young athletes, currently preparing for easily the most significant sporting event of their careers, have the five-time gold medal winner to thank for bringing the event to our shores.
Along with fellow Olympic deity, Lord Sebastain Coe, Redgrave spearheaded the successful campaign, and was there in Singapore in July 2005 when the IOC delivered the fateful announcement.
“I was absolutely delighted,” he recalls. We were all out in Singapore when it happened as part of the presenting panel there, and it was a very special moment. This was a massive victory for everyone involved, and to be part of the bidding committee was a feeling greater than words, especially when we knew our task was extremely tough.”
Redgrave reveals that most of those involved felt that Paris was, politically, the first choice, “even though our bid on paper was superior. But as times gone by have shown us, it doesn’t necessarily go to the best. This time, it did and I can’t tell you how excited I am.” He’s confident that London 2012 is going to go down in history “as one of the best Games ever”, based on “exemplary foresight, planning and the legacy of other events”.
Redgrave, 50, may not be competing physically, but with his appointment as Sports Legacy Champion for 2012, he now possesses considerable influence over the distribution and usage of the Olympic facilities and equipment after the competition ends.
That must mean, surely, that both West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur have been going out of their way to shower him with gifts during their epic struggle for the Olympic stadium? “Not that I’m aware of,” he laughs, “but they’re more than welcome to try that approach.”
Aside from this position of power, he’ll also be riverside at Eton as the rowing correspondent for the BBC, and is quietly confident that he’ll be watching the Brits making a clean sweep.
“The rowing team, on a whole, is the strongest we’ve ever sent to any Olympic Games, ever,” he claims. “We’re looking for our best results in the last hundred years – we dominated the sport in 1908 where we picked up our best tally in one Games, with a total of eight medals... four gold, three silvers and one bronze. And I just know we’ll do better than that this time.”
That’s quite an assertion, but he’s not deterred, continuing “So when (not ‘if’) our rowers continue to cross the line in a medal position event after event, I’ll be right there, on the bank. I’ll be the first person who speaks to them, even before they get those medals around their necks.”
Discovering his talent for rowing at the age of 14 and winning his first gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games at 22, Steve knew that there was nothing else in the world he wanted to do. Had Olympic glory not happened however, there was an alternative career mapped out in front of him. “I never really thought I would move away from the sport,” he says. “My father was a self-employed builder in a small family business, called ‘Redgrave and Sons’. Given that I’ve only got sisters, the ‘…and Sons’ bit implied that, one day, my father probably wanted me to take over the company. But he retired before I gave up my pastime, and I think, overall, he’s quite pleased with how I’ve done!”
Now a father of three, as well as one of the most recognisable sportsmen of a generation, does Redgrave – bestowed with a MBE, CBE and made a Knight Bachelor following his last win in Sydney in 2000 – feel an immense pressure and responsibility? “I think when people think of the ‘Sir’ title they get the idea I walk around with medals hanging around my neck at all times. Some days, when you hear the word ‘Sir’, you think it’s someone else being addressed.
He remains a modest, even a humble man. “If I’m honest, I don’t relate it to the young boy who found a sport while messing around on the river. It’s nice, and people talk to you in that light, but I don’t relate it to me; never have, never will. That title belongs to our athletes of the future.”