Sir Steve Redgrave was one of the best rowers in history. Apart from the amazing fact that he won five Olympic gold medals for Britain in five consecutive Olympics as a endurance athlete, he also won nine world championship gold medals, two silver world medals and two bronze, one at the Worlds and one at the 1988 Seoul Olympics where he doubled up in the coxless and coxed pairs! What a lot of people do not know about Steve is that he was a product of being in the right place at the right time.

Redgrave's first stroke of luck was attending a comprehensive school in Marlow where he was fortunate enough to have an English teacher, Francis Smith, who was a member of the Marlow Rowing Club. Smith invited Redgrave and his three friends to come down to the boat house to try their hand at rowing. Steve, who is dyslexic and, by his own admission, not a good student, excelled at rowing. From the very beginning, his four dominated their competition. At the time, Redgrave, in a single, was so good that he would get bored racing other juniors. To make it more interesting for him, Steve would not actually row full pressure for three quarters of a race, but just paddle down the course, before turning on the burners and blowing away his competition!

The second stroke of luck for Steve was that Marlow was also where rowing coach Mike Spraklen lived. Spraklen is notorious in the rowing world for training his athletes too hard. Redgrave just ate it up! At seventeen, Steve left school and began rowing full time. He was so good he joined the Senior National Sculling Squad who were training out of Spraklen's back garden, which was beside the Thames. Redgrave would have been selected for the 1980 Moscow Olympics had it not been for the Junior rowing selectors insisting that he race at the Junior World Championships held in Hazewinkel, Belgium. They desperately wanted a junior crew from Great Britain to win a medal and Redgrave and his partner, Adam Clift, were odds on favourites to win gold. However, the crew were beaten into second place by an East German boat. Redgrave was so disgusted at his performance he threw his silver medal into the lake!

Over his career, Redgrave continually challenged himself by trying the impossible. For example, he would double up in the coxless and coxed pairs events at the Worlds! Not only would he have to qualify for the event by being the British national champion in both boats, he would also have to race the events back to back at the world championships. On a number of occasions, this meant that as soon as he had raced in one boat, he would have to immediately switch into the other boat, row down to the start and race again, against his rested competition!

It was not all plain sailing for Redgrave during his career, however. Apart from the niggling injuries he had to contend with through out his time as a rower, Steve was diagnosed with ulcerative collitis in 1992 and with diabetes in 1997. Just as he did with his competition, Redgrave was determined to dominate his illnesses and not let them affect his rowing performances. They became part of his "training" that had to be dealt with in order to win.

In retirement, Redgrave has transitioned very well into a motivational speaker and head of various charities. He is an inspiration to those who had the privilege of sharing the river with him and to those who look back at his legacy as an exceptional rower and living legend.

William Weaver responds:

 Good rowers can be considered great only if they have mastered the single. I don't remember if Redgrave won the single at Henley, but I'm more inclined to attribute greatness to oarsmen like Lange, Muller, Kolbe and Karppinen who showed they were not only strong enough, but technically brilliant enough and mentally tough enough, to win the single. The pair is possibly the only shell as technically challenging (if not more so) than the single, but the meat lays with the toughness of being a single sculler.

If you're ever in Philly I'd be happy to host you at Fairmount or Vesper for a row and a beer; both clubs have bars — one great part of rowing in Philadelphia! Just don't visit during the winter — I've done my fair share of rowing in December and January and have suffered from frostbite twice, so I'm done with that!

Chris Cooper says:

 I'm also a rower, though not active at the moment. Did 6:21.6 on the erg at CRASH-B in 2008, which was only 0.7 seconds off the world record for my age group (55-59 HWT), set in the same race. But I'm not very good in my single, having taken up the sport only recently. There's a long learning curve! Last year I convinced my mother to try the erg, and this year she turns 80 and is hoping to set a world record in her new age group, or at least take first place.

I haven't rowed in Philly, but I paddled there for several years on their world-championship dragon boat team, which is composed primarily of ex-rowers. The river is a beautiful place to row or paddle, but only when it isn't freezing.

Sam Humbert observes:

Chris Cooper rocks! His ~6:20 time (in his late 50s!) is equivalent to ~1:35 500m splits. Wow! My 38-yo trainer, who's a longtime weightlifter and quite fit, can do 1:35 for a single 500m — then he's toast. Me, at age 48, and moderately fit, 1:45…


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