Rowing: Pinsent looks beyond fifth gold towards bright future

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Nothing, in the end, became Matthew Pinsent's rowing career like the leaving of it.

Nothing, in the end, became Matthew Pinsent's rowing career like the leaving of it.

With characteristic eloquence and humour, the 34-year-old quadruple Olympic rowing champion yesterday announced his widely-predicted decision to retire, thus laying to rest the question that has shadowed him ever since he took his first Olympic gold in tandem with his senior partner Steve Redgrave, to whom he paid tribute.

No. Pinsent will not seek to match Redgrave's Olympic record, which concluded with a fifth gold in Sydney.

"Chasing records is a bad reason for continuing," he said yesterday at the Leander clubhouse beside the stretch of the Thames which has consumed so many of his waking hours in the past 15 years. "Really bad. As is the fear of what to do next."

The only problem this Oxford graduate appears to have here is deciding which opportunity to pursue, given that he is already an easy television performer, newspaper columnist and author of an autobiography, A Lifetime in a Race, that was narrowly beaten to the line on Monday for the William Hill Sports book of the Year award.

As Danny Kelly, one of the judges, remarked affectionately in introducing Pinsent to the award gathering: "What a git!"

Pinsent's political nous, which has already seen him serve on the International Olympic Committee's Athletes' Commission, will certainly be employed by the organisers of the London 2012 bid. And the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, has been at pains to keep in contact with a young sportsman whom many could picture in his position a few Games down the line.

The Man Who Might Be President chose, however, to emphasise that he has no "cast-iron" career prospects, adding: "As a friend said to me last night, 'at the rate they are going, leave it a few more days and you'll be Pope'."

Setting aside any Papal ambition, Pinsent will be seeking to enjoy life away from the daily compulsion of five hours arduous training.

While he believes that his erstwhile partner James Cracknell, who announced earlier this week he would be taking a one-year sabbatical, would never be more than 12 weeks away from racing fitness, Pinsent can foresee his own fitness dropping within six months to the point where no return would be practical.

"After Barcelona and Atlanta I was almost ready to train within days," he said. "Sydney took a little longer, but I knew after a month or two that I wanted desperately to row again. After Athens it has been different. I poured my soul into that race in Athens in a way I cannot describe. I think my body knows that it is done." Although Pinsent describes his first Olympic victory as the most special - "you're world champion for a year, but Olympic champion for life" - he rates his fourth gold medal performance as the most satisfying.

Not just because it was one of the hardest races of his life, but because the build-up was similarly stressful, with only seven weeks of preparation available to a crew that was ravaged by illness and injury.

He recalled that, as the crew filed out for the final in Athens, their coach, Jurgen Grobler, had told them: "The last stroke can count."

In the event, it did, as they finished just eight hundredths of a second clear of Canada.

The last stroke of that race has now become the last stroke of Pinsent's competitive rowing life. Asked to recall his lowest moments as an oarsman over the past 20 years, he paused, before responding with an irresistible grin: "It's not a career that's been dominated by low points, really."

Oarsome foursome: How Matthew Pinsent won his four Olympic golds

Barcelona 1992

In 1990, Matthew Pinsent joined Steven Redgrave in the coxless pairs boat, replacing the injured Simon Berrisford. In 1992, they totally dominated the Olympic final and won by five seconds in 6:27.72, the largest winning margin of the regatta. The German crew took the silver medal and the Slovak team were left with bronze.

Atlanta 1996

Pinsent teamed up with Redgrave again in the coxless pairs. They defended their Olympic title in their 100th race together. They led by 2.85 seconds at halfway and won with ease in 6:20.09. Australia and France took silver and bronze respectively.

Sydney 2000

Pinsent was one of the men's coxless four that handed Redgrave his record fifth consecutive gold medal. The crew also featured James Cracknell and Tim Foster and clocked 5:56.24 to finish less than four-tenths of a second ahead of the Italians.

Athens 2004

Cracknell and Pinsent were this time joined by Steve Williams and Ed Coode and defended their coxless fours title in dramatic fashion. The four clocked 6:06.98 and held on to their lead to beat the Canadian team by a mere one-tenth of a second. The race ended in a nail-biting photo-finish and gave Pinsent his fourth gold medal.