23 Sep 2000
There are very few athletes who have won gold medals at five different Olympic Games. By the new millennium, the feat had only been achieved four times. Going into Sydney, rower Steve Redgrave aimed to make it five. He had left the previous four Games with a gold medal round his neck; and now, at the grand old age of 38, he was going for his fifth.
The surprise for those who had seen him after victory in Atlanta was that Redgrave was a in a boat at all. In 1996 he had famously declared that “anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me”.
But he never officially retired and, four months later, was back in a rowing boat.
Redgrave was part of a strong British rowing four, which had been unbeaten for three years. However, their form wobbled at just the wrong time, with defeat in Lucerne just a few months before the Olympics.
He had a familiar face alongside him in the boat. Matthew Pinsent had won gold with Redgrave in the coxless pairs at the past two Games, and now the two rowers had joined up with the powerful Tim Foster and James Cracknell in the bigger boat. Their response to the Lucerne defeat was to train even harder, and to analyse everything they were doing.
Their poise recovered, they arrived in Sydney in confident mood and started their campaign in imperious form, setting first round time that was more than three seconds faster than anyone else.
The British crew then won their semi-final with some ease, but it was clear from the other semi-final that both Australia and Italy would present a tough challenge for the gold. And that's exactly how it panned out, with the Italians battling hard from the start.
The race was close all the way to the end, developing into a contest between Great Britain and Italy. At moments the two boats seemed completely side-by-side and there never seemed to be more than a metre in it. But as they crossed the line, it was the British who had just seized victory by a wafer-thin margin of 0.38secs.
Redgrave slumped forward, his energy absolutely spent. Pinsent clambered over Foster to hug his old friend. The fifth gold was secure, but this time the retirement message was sincere. Redgrave had achieved his dream and nothing was going to persuade him to get back into the boat again!