British Rowing at the Olympics

XXVIIth Olympics
September 2000
Rachel Quarrell on the race you can't afford to miss.
Olympic Reports Friday September 22nd 2000 - Waiting.....

Whatever happens, history will be made. The point is not lost on the world's press, who have been bandying about phrases such as "golden dream", "destiny in the making" and "ultimate Olympic champion" for weeks, months and in some cases years.

What happens if the GBR M4- is beaten? Well, it will overturn the sporting hopes of at least 10% of a nation, and fulfill the dreams of another one. If Messrs Cracknell, Redgrave, Foster and Pinsent are headed over the line, it will ruin an unmatched and largely unsung perfect record. Matthew Pinsent, not many people realise, has never EVER been beaten in any Olympic race. That's heats, semi's and finals. Since 1991 he has not been beaten in any World Championship race, either, and until the shenanigans with the four, that included World Cup races too. Breaking that streak would be a feather in any crew's cap. If it were to be the Australian M4- which took gold, they too would create a legend, succeeding for the third successive time in this Olympic event, albeit with a totally different crew. But with a pacy Italian crew, and three other finalists, anyone who ruins Redgrave's ambitions will write their name into the history books.

So what if they do it? With a large chunk of the British nation holding their breath (and, especially rowers, actually feeling British for once), if the Aylings bow crosses the line first, Redgrave will walk into an uncharted future. Although a handful of athletes have four or more successive Olympic golds, all are in non-endurance sports, and the only two to beat Steve are both fencers. Never before has an endurance athlete remained at the peak of his or her sport for so long, punishing the body and will week after week. We have no idea, if he succeeds, whether the media mania will last a day or a decade. He's so modest that I'm not sure he realises the difference he has made already to hundreds of young rowers. One of the them, James Cracknell, now rows behind his hero, and plenty of other aspirants to the GBR national team and to club success list Mr. S. Redgrave, MBE and CBE, as their personal inspiration. I have heard myself from several oarsmen and women who took up rowing after Barcelona or Atlanta just because of what they saw him do. How many people can say they have made that kind of difference? A staggering number of UK club shells carry his name, and his face is to be seen on every bit of Project Oarsome or Lottery Sports Funding publicity sent out by the ARA. The title image of this websection is a photograph of Redgrave, because he personifies and represents British Rowing and its hopes, and will do for some time. His achievements by no means dilute those of other winners, especially Matthew Pinsent: instead they draw attention to them. It is, I am sure, the way he wants it.

Despite the experience of Tim Foster's girlfriend Bethan [see press links], it's clear the rowing world is behind Redgrave's attempt, on the whole. If he fails, those who beat him will temper their richly deserved self-pride with sadness that the ultimate winner was beaten before he could bow out at the top. If the four wins, the rest of the crews will dine out for years on how they were there when it happened.

Will you be watching? For the sake of our sport, I hope you can find the time.

Return to the Olympic index for TV, radio and internet coverage details. And with the British men's pair and eight, and women's quad also in a serious medal hunt, there is more than one type of history to be made. Watch this space.