on 3 October 2000
More of a legend than a man, at least that is the way Steven Redgrave has long been portrayed in the media. At last, the long-awaited autobiography gives us mere mortals an insight into what makes the world's greatest ever oarsman tick.
Perhaps unsurprisingly and not unlike its subject, the book is almost entirely focussed on rowing. For me, as a rowing fan, that did not prove a problem, but for those with less interest in the nuts and bolts of the sport, A Golden Age may prove to require more dedication than an hour on a rowing machine. I, for one, was fascinated to read of Redgrave's rapid ascent from paddling on the river with friends in order to skive school to going on to become the leading oarsman in this country and then the world.
The small insights we are given into Redgrave's private life show that achieving his sporting status has required more sacrifices than most of us would make in a lifetime. Perhaps that is understating it. The book deals in depth with all the problems that we have heard about in the press such as Redgrave's battles with Colitis and, more recently, Diabetes. It is an unbelievable testament to the man's courage and force of will that he insisted on carrying on even when, as a result of his illnesses, he was training harder and, in terms of assessments, achieving less.
It also gives an interesting perspective of the personality of the man. The lasting impression I have taken from the book is that it should be his put-upon wife, Ann, who should receive something by way of the honours list this year. Fingers' crossed!
Definitely worth a read although don't be expecting any major revelations. There is touching intimacy in parts although for the most part, Redgrave concentrates on listing events that happened rather than how he felt about them. Perhaps, the typical lack of gushing emotion (he acknowledges that he does feel great emotion at times but he may be better than the rest of us at controlling it) is necessary to maintain his aura of invincibility.
I am quietly confident that, before too very long, there will be an updated version of the autobiography with a chapter on Sydney 2000. I couldn't wait to read the book to learn a bit more about one of my idols. I was not disappointed and so am sure that I will be buying version II as well! If you have any interest in rowing or if the Sydney Olympics have sparked an interest in how all of these amateur athletes dedicate their lives to their sports, this book is for you.
on 14 February 2013
When certain people reach the top of a slippery tower they feel they can speak their minds about everything, and nobody thinks anything if they say something daft.
Sir Steve, five times Olympic gold (and one bronze) medal winner at five consecutive Games since 1984, nine times World, and three times Commonwealth rowing champion, is a mixture of traditional and modern ideas. As one who went through life before the benefits of John Major's National Lottery he is critical of those athletes who expect full payment, and national honours, and has no time for those sportsmen, like George Best (possibly even Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne), with great talents, who have wasted their lives. He and his companions, Andy Holmes and Matthew Pinsent, furthermore, managed to receive sponsorships from Leyland DAF first, and later from Canada Life; but they had to promote these organizations, something no Lottery supported athlete is obliged. What is more, they often had to pay for many of their competitions, forcing him to run up a hefty bank overdraft, something which the bank manager was far from happy despite his bringing back national glory and medals on the water.
He is still critical of Mrs Thatcher's decision to follow the US against going to the Moscow Games in 1980. He was against her for personal reasons because it stopped US firms in the UK from sponsoring the BOA, and so allowed only a skeleton squad (excluding himself) from participating, which unlike any other economic sanctions did not cost the nation any sacrifice or financial loss, but it did annoy all the men and women who had trained for so long, and lost their moment of glory.
His anger continued because four years later when winning his first Olympic gold in the coxed fours on Lake Casitas, near Santa Barbara, and described in the Sunday Times by the previous British gold winner rower Richard Burnell as the "unlikely lads", his victory was not completely recognised following the Eastern bloc's tit-for-tat response not to attend those Games, even if immediately prior to them he had defeated all his rivals, and broken the world record. In contrast, he has good words for the sports loving John Major who did more to promote honours going to sportsmen.
Though the work ends in 2001, it is likely that he would have approved of the idea of a lasting legacy of the London Games in 2012; but Redgrave would not have been jubilant to know it signified that sports funding in schools - the primary agent to lure students away from the sofa to sport and build up future generations of athletes, would be axed.
He is critical of the journalist fraternity who for the sake of a quick buck, and not wishing to check the facts, have quickly scribbled down stupid stories, adding off-the cuff comments he is said to have uttered, which have caused offence. Moreover, he is fed up with the continual stereotype of reporting that rowing is a snob's public school sport - when the majority of schools taking part, like the one he attended in Marlow, are comprehensive, and with the exception of Gavin Stewart in 1987, Oxbridge have not produced rowers who raced at the national level. And despite, being a traditionalist he was not well-thought of in certain quarters when he let it be known that he thought the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat race was only a "Mickey Mouse" event.
He is candid and praise-worthy of his former colleagues: Pinsent, James Cracknell, and Greg Searle; enthusiastic of the professional genius of his two coaches: first, Mike Spracklen, former Empire Games winner in 1958, and, after 1991, Jurgen Grobler, former East German women's rowing coach (who in nine years until 1990 helped win 21 World titles and five Olympic golds), and was able to answer back some of the comments of his jealous rowing companion Holmes. To outsiders what may seem trivial or unnecessary, reflects the very intimate close family network existing within the rowing community, and in this situation transformed into a small bickering and fighting with handbags. To those in the clan the famous duo of Pinsent and Redgrave was always referred to as M & S, and thought as reliable as Marks & Spencer, who would loyally stand by the clan - including their coach when a newspaper falsely accused him in doping in East Germany.
He has positive stories to reveal of the Royal family, of Seb Coe, of all fellow foreign rowers, including the Abbagnale and Pimenov brothers, from Italy and the ex Soviet Union, he competed against, as well as amazingly of Australian public supporting him in Sydney. He also was blunt about the poor organization, the shambolic opening ceremony at the Atlanta Games where the Polish team manager collapsed and died; the unhealthy conditions of the Olympic Village, of how sport gets presented on TV around the world, and what happens when the national side where the Games are held performs badly.
For the real sports fan Redgrave compared his victories and part defeat at Seoul in 1988 to those of Coe and Ovett in the 800 and 1,500 eight years previously. If Coe was stimulated by his defeat, in 1988 Redgrave did not prepare himself mentally for the coxed-pairs, one day after the victory, interviewing and celebrations in the coxless pairs. He admits it was a mistake which he regrets, partly for his companion and Pat Sweeney, the cox, something which can never be rectified in Olympics unlike at annual World championships.
Readers will read about the unspoken medal which was stolen, and then returned; learn that he had difficult moments when he was diagnosed first with colitis, and then with diabetes; of his time in a bobsleigh, and hear direct from the interested person that contrary to rumours and journalist scoop fantasies, it was not Princess Anne who suggested he should stop competing at another Olympics after Sydney, and hear what exactly HRH actually said. They will laugh as other Olympic athletes smile when they hear what he did the day he was crowned Olympic medallist for the fifth time, and received a special pin from the IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch. But a day like a life is not all about gold medals!
They will be surprised to learn that Redgrave is related to the Redgrave actors, Sir Michael, his children Vanessa, Corin and Lynn, and grandchildren, and the Redgraves in Britain can be traced back to the arrival of Viking sailor, Eric the Red. So with a twinkle in his eye there is much sea and adventure flowing through Steve's veins.
Usually sports biographies are fairly repetitive and predictable. This one by Steve Redgrave, and Nick Townsend, is predictable because he raced and won against the very best over twenty years right up to his final race in September 2000. He gives the impression that he knew his sporting life would come to an end one day, so it was important to enjoy those days and the training to the full. Most of all, when that day arrived he had to walk away peacefully, and begin a completely different challenge, otherwise there was a risk like heroin addicts of suffering from a cold-turkey condition, as without the stimulus of the activity and the competition they no longer get their fix. His final message to all is to be oneself, and treat one's body kindly. You don't win with last year's performance. At 38, it was obvious he could no longer continue as before, and his clock was counting. A good lasting piece of advice for sports fans and athletes alike.
on 12 April 2001
This auto-biography will interest the rower and the non-rower alike. The reader gets an insight into Steve Redgrave's personality, not just a resume of how many medals he's won. I realised how single-minded and dedicated the man was. The illnesses picked up along the way, are regarded as unfortunate obstacles, which Redgrave soon overcomes. The amount of training he puts in puts other so-called 'professionals' to shame. Even though rowing has always been amateur, the commitment to training is purely professional. Redgrave highlights throughout the account, how the sport of rowing was held in such low regard, until he raised the profile through all his successes for Britain. He mentions disputes, personality clashes and even punch-ups, but always shows tremendous respect for all his competitors. One theme that runs throughout the story, is his competitive spirit. He doesn't apologise for his 'either you win or you're a tourist' ethos. When overtaken by an innocent sculler, he immediately sets off to overtake. This spirit, although typically Redgrave, isn't typically British-we just prefer to take part-not win. To conclude, the story blows away the idea that he is morose and unemotional.