When it comes to Great British Olympic moments the name Steve Redgrave, later to be ‘Sir’ Steve Redgrave  is never far out of mind. As we look ahead to the country’s hosting of the Games for the first time in 64 years, it is perhaps appropriate to go back 12 years to one of Britain’s finest Olypmic achievements.

As a vaguely interested 9-year old spectator being allowed to stay up late to watch the famous race live in Sydney, the sport of rowing meant relatively little to myself or anyone else in our household. However, even I could not fail to appreciate that we could be about to witness something momentous that night as the build-up to the final of the Men’s Coxless Four commenced on televsion.

The pre-race coverage informed me of one of one of the rowers, 38 year-old Steve Redgrave who was aiming to win his fifth Olympic Gold medal which would be an historic achievement. Clips from previous Games were shown – Los Angeles ’84, Seoul ’88, Barcelona ’92 and Atlanta ’96 – in which this progressively aging man had picked up gold medals and by the time of the start of the race I was well and truly rooting for the British team to prevail, unlike in any other event during those Games.

The race itselsf on Penrith Lakes, in which Redgrave rowed alongside another multiple-winer Matthew Pinsent as well as James Cracknell and Tim Foster was a tense and nail-biting affair with an extremely close finish in which the British crossed the finishing line marginally ahead of the Italians to take gold and complete Redgrave’s outstanding achievement much to the delight of the British-dominated crowd which surrounded the Lakes.

The sight of Redgrave leaning exhaustedly over his oars in relief at his triumph remains as vivid as ever. The achievement is made slightly more astounding by Redgrave’s jovial comment following his Atlanta triumph “If anyone sees me anywhere near a boat, they have permission to shoot me” which signifies the effort he had made to prepare himself, along with his team to have another tilt at Olympic gold.  

Jokes followed about another repeat in Athens 2004 – “I’d only be 42” he once jokingly said – but there was no need for Steve Redgrave to prove himself again to the British public to his right to be one of our finest Olympians.

A memorable moment which signifies the Olympics’ ability to catch people’s patriotic fervour and unite them in mutual admiration of one individual, or group’s achievement, in something which we would not normally take interest.

This year Sir Chris Hoy will be attempting to equal Redgrave’s total of five gold medals in London. Let us hope London 2012 can produce more memorable moments over the next coming weeks.


Simon Mulligan

Image: telegraph.co.uk