Andy Holmes: Rower whose partnership with Steve Redgrave sparked a British renaissance in the sport
Wednesday 27 October 2010
Andy Holmes, part of the gold-winning crew at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and gold-winning partner to Steve Redgrave at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, was part of Britain's rowing renaissance and helped provide the foundations on which Britain's now long-standing success in the sport is built. The LA gold ended a 36-year drought in the sport.
Holmes was seen as a focused and determined, yet unassuming individual. He always remained modest about his achievements. The youngest of three brothers, he was born in West London in 1959. From the age of 13, he took advantage of the summer holidays and worked on construction sites carrying bricks on to the scaffolding. He soon developed strong thighs and arms. It was while attending Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith that Holmes' talent for rowing was first noticed by the Montreal Olympic silver medallist Jim Clark. After leaving school Holmes completed a degree in French and briefly rowed at Kingston rowing club.
Clark helped Holmes to join the exclusive Leander club, then widely regarded as England's premier rowing club. Here, everything centred around excellence and competition, in particular the Henley Regatta. Initially, Holmes recalled, he was seen as a bit of an outsider. Although his technique was not great, his pure power was abundantly clear. He made rapid progress and, in 1978, at 19, won the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta and was selected in the men's coxed four for the World Championships.
Three years later he was chosen for the British Olympic team's coxed fours at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. He joined- up with Richard Budgett, Martin Cross and Steve Redgrave, with Adrian Ellison as cox. Having beaten East Germany, the world champions, earlier in the year at the Lucerne Regatta, the team were upbeat about their chances, even before the Soviet-bloc boycott of the Games. They went on to beat the Americans and win Britain's first Olympic gold since London 1948. Holmes also made the headlines that day because it was revealed that he had funded his Olympic effort by working as a hod-carrier. Despite the success, the boat broke up quickly and Holmes went into "unofficial retirement".
He started rowing again for two reasons. Firstly, rowing had been included in the 1986 Commonwealth Games and he wanted to have the chance of winning all three major titles, along with the Olympic and World titles. Secondly, there was the fact that the East Germans had not taken part in LA.
Holmes and Redgrave joined up to row as a coxless pair. Following a meeting in a "greasy spoon" cafe in Putney and a session on the water, Holmes "felt that things clicked immediately". The pair went on to sweep aside all before them. In 1986 they won Commonwealth gold in the coxless pairs, and were part of the gold-winning coxed four. The same year, at Nottingham, the pair completed their trio of titles, winning the World Championships in the coxed pairs, with Pat Sweeney. 1987 saw the duo win another World Championship gold in the coxless pairs and silver in the coxed pairs at Copenhagen.
Their "untouchable" status made them firm favourites for gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and they duly obliged, beating the Romanians in the coxless pairs, which Holmes described as "more satisfying than the first because everyone in the world was competing". However, due to the punishing race schedule they lost out in the coxed pairs, winning bronze.
It was, none the less, an astonishing achievement and should have set the seal on their relationship. Once again, though, Holmes quickly found the team was about to break up. "Steve just didn't want to continue and to this day I'm not quite sure why," he recalled. They were never really close friends: "When we subsequently chose to go our separate ways, the press tried to make out that there had been a clash of personalities. But that simply wasn't the case."
Redgrave sought out a new partner, initially Simon Berrisford then Matthew Pinsent. Unable to find a suitable partner, Holmes considered sculling and bought a house at Banyoles in Spain, where the 1992 Olympics were to be held, but without a sponsor he retired and disappeared from the sport; it was seen as a big loss.
He set up a furniture removal company and found other diversions, including drumming in an occasionally convened rock band. In 2007, 17 years after leaving the sport he had helped to make famous, he returned, initially as a coach, when he became director of rowing at Furnival sculling club in Hammersmith and at the Langley Academy in Berkshire, and then into sculling.
Competing in Boston, Lincolnshire a couple of weeks ago, Holmes contracted leptospirosis, known as Weil's disease, an infection picked up from river water contaminated by the urine of infected animals, which attacks the major organs. He died in hospital. As well as four children with his first wife, Pamela, Holmes had a month-old daughter with his second wife, Gabrielle.
Andrew Jeremy Holmes, rower; born Hillingdon, West London 15 October 1959; married 1984 Pamela (three daughtes, one son), secondly Gabrielle (one daughter); MBE; died London 24 October 2010.
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