Redgrave waves golden goodbye

Britain's greatest Olympian has finally decided to call time on a glittering 20-year rowing career
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Even in announcing his retirement yesterday, Steven Redgrave could not quite bring himself to say the words: "I retire." Instead, the man who has secured five Olympic gold rowing medals and permanent status as a national treasure preferred to talk in terms of reducing his training load. That is, in order to run the next London Marathon.

Even in announcing his retirement yesterday, Steven Redgrave could not quite bring himself to say the words: "I retire." Instead, the man who has secured five Olympic gold rowing medals and permanent status as a national treasure preferred to talk in terms of reducing his training load. That is, in order to run the next London Marathon.

In the aftermath of winning his fourth gold at the Atlanta Games, Redgrave had given full permission for anyone who ever saw him near a boat again to shoot him. Four years on, he has been more circumspect, waiting more than a month after his victory in Sydney before signalling the end of a 20-year career at the peak of his sport.

"I didn't want to say anything while I was still in Sydney, because after Atlanta I didn't think anyone would believe me," he told a press conference at which his three colleagues in the victorious coxless four - Tim Foster, James Cracknell and the rower with whom he has shared the last three of his golds, Matthew Pinsent - were present to witness the confirmation of a rumour that had grown to unignorable proportion since all four stepped out of their boat at Sydney's Penrith Lakes rowing venue.

For all the logic of a 38-year-old with diabetes and colitis deciding not to submit himself to another four-year cycle of privation, discipline and gut-wrenching physical effort, there was still a lingering sense of doubt in the air as Redgrave took the microphone.

Even his family, he revealed, had been less than certain about the direction he should take. "When I was having breakfast yesterday, I asked the children what they thought I should do," he said with a smile. "One was asleep. One of them said they wanted me to stop. And one of them said they wanted me to carry on."

He added that his wife, Anne, the British rowing team's doctor, had not believed his vow to retire in Atlanta and was probably the only person who still did not believe him now. Clearly she knows how the mind of this quintessential competitor works.

"I feel I could go on," he said. "The oldest Olympic rowing champion was just under 42, and I will be 42 in four years' time. But I don't really want to go through four more years of hardship," he said.

"I worked towards Sydney thinking it was going to be a tremendous Games and it lived up to all the expectations and more. I think this is a very fitting point to say that I have achieved all I wanted to in rowing. Everybody has got to stop at some stage."

Pressed, understandably, on his resolve to follow through on his announcement, he replied calmly: "I won't be in the boats. At all."

He also ruled out coaching, at least for the foreseeable future. He will, however, be around boats as he seeks to establish the super sprints series he recently took part in on a European or worldwide competitive basis.

His new focus on running, he explained, was partly determined by medical circumstances. He has been told that his diabetic condition will require him to taper his training down for a minimum time of 18 months.

"It seems a hell of a long time, but the heart is just another muscle and if it's not used it turns to fat," he said. He has not ruled out returning for some gym sessions with his erstwhile colleagues to help combat any boredom.

None of his three colleagues have decided upon their next career moves, although Redgrave believes the squad has the capacity and talent to build on the Sydney success. In particular, he maintains that Pinsent has the potential to reach the territory he has pioneered.

"I can see Matthew overall being more successful than me," he said. "He's already won three golds at a younger age than me. If he goes on to win four golds, he will have a chance to win more world titles than me - I've won nine, and he's won seven so far. Then maybe the temptation will be there for him to do five..."

Asked to sum up the qualities of the man whom he has accompanied to three Olympic victories in the last eight years, Pinsent responded, with a characteristic smirk: "Determination, guts, bloody-mindedness, competitiveness - how long have you got?"

He remained determinedly non-committal, however, about the prospect of emulating his friend and colleague. "You can't point to another athlete in any sport who's been around at that level for so long," he said. "Winning five consecutive Olympic rowing golds is almost impossible. Steve has proved it isn't impossible, but it's not something I would embark upon lightly.

"I've seen at first hand how hard it is to do it."

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