He is one of only four athletes ever to win five successive Olympic gold medals
If anyone saw him near a boat again, Sir Steve Redgrave said in 1996 just as he stepped off his, they could shoot him. He had won his fourth straight Olympic gold, and had, after defending his coxless pairs title that evening in Atlanta, quite simply, “had it”.
But months after his famous and rather dramatic proclamation, Redgrave was back in training, looking at a fifth rowing gold in five Olympics.
There were doubts — not least because of his diabetes — but the fire had clearly not stopped burning. At 38, Redgrave returned for another hurrah at Sydney, this time in the coxless fours, and with Tim Foster, James Cracknell, and his old pairs partner Matthew Pinsent, duly wrapped up a fifth title, passing into history as one of only four athletes ever to win five successive Olympic golds.
Arguably Britain’s greatest Olympian, Redgrave’s first success at the Games came in 1984 at Los Angeles, where he won the coxed fours with Martin Cross, Adrian Ellison, Andy Holmes and Richard Budgett.
He and Holmes — admittedly not the best of friends — allied to great effect, taking the coxless pairs title in Seoul (1988).
But just months ahead of the 1992 Games, Redgrave was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis — a potentially devastating condition, not least for an Olympic athlete.
“My attitude was just to get on with it,” he said of the illness afterwards.
“As a sportsman I always had to overcome obstacles that seemed designed to slow me down. This was just another one.”
He and new teammate Pinsent destroyed the field in Barcelona, winning by close to five seconds, before retaining that title four years later.
Redgrave did call it a day after Sydney, and in retirement has written books, appeared as a motivational speaker, and worked for charity.
He was knighted in 2001, and remains a top contender to light the Olympic flame on July 27.
Keywords: Olympic gold medals