Sir Steve Redgrave: Rowing at school, for a club and at the 1986 Commonwealth Games

Sporting Hero

My first sporting hero was Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics; I must have been 10 at the time. It was something that made a strong impression on me. We used to have a very long drive in those days and during the summer holidays it was my job to go down to the bottom of the drive to collect the milk and the paper. I can remember more of the headlines in the paper than actually seeing it live on TV. I remember one headline in particular which was 'Spitz for six' even though he went on to win a seventh gold medal. That was the headline I always remembered.


I went to a small comprehensive school in Marlow in Buckinghamshire and the head of the English department used to help out across all the different sports. His main loves were Rugby and Rowing. He happened to be captain of Marlow rowing club at that time and he just used to go round and ask a few individuals if they would like to go along and try rowing as a sport. I was one that he picked on and I thought 'go out rowing on the river during school time, yep, that seems a no-brainer to me'. There were twelve that he asked along from my year group. Within two or three weeks, there were only four of us that we're interested in carrying it on. So we rowed in a coxed four and had a very successful season. Our first ever race was Avon Counties School regatta which I remember was on FA Cup day when Southampton beat Man Utd in 1976. There was a buzz going around, especially with Southampton winning, and we saw the highlights later.

1986 Commonwealth Games

Rowing is a sport that dips in and out of the Commonwealth Games; fortunately for me it dipped out after 1986 and therefore leaves me as reigning Commonwealth Champion in three different events. It was quite a marked turning point in my career in a number of ways. I always wanted to be a single sculler but every time I tried that boat internationally I didn't really get very good results. I had got into the four for Los Angeles in 1984 with only about two months to go to the Games and after winning the Gold medal I thought that would be a good spring-board, helping me with sponsorship and other elements that could help me achieve what I wanted to do. But then things started to go a bit wrong. I got a back injury at the World Championships in 1985 and I had to withdraw. The following year was the Commonwealth Games year and I was seriously considering giving up the sport. I seemed to be a long way off challenging the top guys of the time but perhaps trying to win the single sculls at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh might be a good thing to do. So it was the prospect of the Commonwealth Games that motivated me and helped me stick in with the sport.

Andy Holmes who was in the four with me in Los Angeles had retired after the Games and he too wanted to come back for the Commonwealth Games and do the World Championship in a coxed pair that year. We sat down and discussed it and I said I really wanted to the singles at the Commonwealth but happy to do the coxed pair at the World Championships. So that's what we agreed to do but then we felt if we could challenge the coxless pair of Great Britain at the time which was Martin Cross and Adam Clift who were reigning World silver medallists; we could try and beat them and probably pinch the Commonwealth Games slot off them - which we did. And then we ended up getting in with the four with those two as well. It ended up that Andy won two Gold medals, Martin and Adam one each, and I won three.

Not saying the weather is quite changeable in Scotland but there (Strathclyde Park) we had a very, very strong wind behind to make times really very fast. Because I was doing three events focusing on the single as the main one I was trying to keep things together and not go too mad. It was a two day competition followed by a rest day followed by another two day competition. The single was in the first two days and the four and pair were in the second two days. We would have smashed the World record in the coxless pair but we only rowed flat out to just over half way and then cruised in because we had another final following on straight after it. That was a bit of a frustration in some ways that we couldn't have broken the World Record at that point.

Really, despite already having an Olympic Gold, it was from there that my career really began to take off with consistent results.

Sir Steve Redgrave

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Memory added on May 17, 2015

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