Redgrave 'better than ever' at 38 as pressure grows

Steve Redgrave is confident of winning a gold medal at a fifth consecutive Olympic Games in September despite his coxless four's two surprise defeats at the World Cup meeting in Lucerne.

Steve Redgrave is confident of winning a gold medal at a fifth consecutive Olympic Games in September despite his coxless four's two surprise defeats at the World Cup meeting in Lucerne.

The crew - Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent, Tim Foster and James Cracknell - had not lost together since 1997 until they finished a tenth of a second behind New Zealand in the Lucerne semi-final 11 days ago. In the following day's final they finished a distant fourth behind Italy, New Zealand and Australia.

"Those defeats were our fault because we've dominated so much that other crews have had to improve to come up to our level," Redgrave said yesterday. "Lucerne proved that winning is not a formality," added the most successful British Olympian in history. "We've known that all along but it's been a bit of an eye-opener for a lot of other people. It proves that we don't just have to turn up to win, that it takes a lot of hard work."

Redgrave, who was speaking after the announcement of the British rowing team for Sydney, added that the defeats had not negatively affected morale. "It's never nice to lose," he said. "As a crew we were a little bit stunned as we crossed the line and realised we hadn't done ourselves justice. But overall we've had a pretty good season. Our first objective was to win the World Cup and we did, winning at two of the three meetings in the series. Our second was to win at Henley and we did. Out third was to win every single race and we didn't quite achieve that."

Asked if he felt that his age - 38 - might be catching up with him, and that he might no longer be the unbeatable force he appeared to be when taking his previous four Olympic golds (with the coxed four in 1984 and in the coxless pair in 1988, 1992 and 1996) he paused before replying, quite deliberately: "I don't think I am as good as I was at the last four Olympics." He paused again for dramatic effect before adding: "I'm better. Mentally I'm stronger and also physiologically I'm testing better than I have during the last four years."

Redgrave's crew-mates echoed his confidence and suggested that the Lucerne defeats - especially the margin of the final loss - had been almost too uncharacteristic to be worried about. "I know the opposition looked at us, six to eight seconds behind, and realised that maybe we weren't trying," Foster said. "Once the chance of winning had gone the fight for a bronze was not the same as the fight for gold," he added.

"The crews that beat us did nothing we aren't capable of doing," Pinsent said. "We gave a bad performance, they did not come up with an exceptionally good one. Yesterday we had a team meeting that was as useful as any we've had in the last four years. We just said 'Let's not sit here panicking. We've already proved we're quick enough to beat the Italians, the Australians and New Zealand'."

Cracknell, who left Lucerne with a gold despite defeat in the coxless four - he was called on as a last-minute replacement in the winning eight - was even more succinct in his appraisal. "We're the best four athletes in the whole field," he said.

Of the nine other British crews besides the coxless four, the one expected to do best is the eight. "I'd be disappointed if we didn't come back with a gold medal now," the cox, Rowley Douglas, said. "We have a very realistic chance of getting a gold medal and we've showed that we can keep lifting our performance to do it."

GREAT BRITAIN OLYMPIC SQUAD

MEN

Single scull: M Wells (Univ of London BC).

Coxless pair: G Searle (Molesey BC), E Coode (Queen's Tower BC).

Lightweight double scull: T Kay (Notts County RA), T Male (Tideway Scullers School).

Coxless four: J Cracknell, S Redgrave, T Foster, M Pinsent (all Leander Club).

Eight: A Lindsay (Queen's Tower BC), B Hunt-Davis (Leander Club), S Dennis (Leander Club), L Attrill (Queen's Tower BC), L Grubor (Queen's Tower BC), K West (Cambridge Univ BC), F Scarlett (Leander Club), S Trapmore (Notts County RA), R Douglas (cox,Oxford Brookes Univ BC).

WOMEN

Single scull: A Mowbray (Thames RC).

Coxless pair: D Blackie (Thames RC), C Bishop (Marlow RC).

Double scull: F Houghton (Univ of London Women's BC), G Lindsay (Marlow RC)

Quadruple scull: G Batten (Thames RC), S Winckless (Walbrook & Royal Canoe Club), K Grainger (St Andrew BC), M Batten (Thames RC).

Eight: R Carroll (Notts County RA), A Sanders (City of Sheffield RC), K MacKenzie (Thames RC), A Beever (Queen's Tower BC), L Eyre (Marlow RC), A Trickey (Queen's Tower BC), F Zino (Queen's Tower BC), E Laverick (Thames RC), C Miller (cox, London RC).

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