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Rowing: Why Redgrave resisted lure of a sixth gold

Olympic exclusive

He was the Olympic rower who famously commanded that he should be shot if he was ever found near a boat again after the 1996 Atlanta Games, but who four years later stood on the podium at Sydney to accept an unprecedented fifth gold. Three years on from that emotional scene and his retirement, Sir Steve Redgrave has admitted he has again had second thoughts.

He revealed last night that in the last few weeks he has seriously contemplated another comeback to the water and even making a bid for a sixth Olympic gold in Athens next August. "Everybody dreams, and even a five-Olympic gold medallist dreams of doing it again and making it six," said Redgrave, who would have emulated oarsman Guy Nickalls, who came out of retirement at 42 to claim an Olympic gold back in 1908.

Ultimately, Redgrave, 41, has yielded to the realism which told him that while the spirit was willing, the body was not. "If I'd had 18 months, I could have made it," he added. "But 10 months? That just wasn't possible. I knew that I'd never get back to my best."

He added: "After I was diagnosed with diabetes and colitis I was never the same athlete, but I was able to stay at the top of the sport. Admittedly, I was hanging on by the end, hanging on by my nail ends. So, I suppose I knew in my heart a comeback would be impossible with the medical conditions I've got. But it was nice thinking about it."

The idea germinated while he was out running near his Buckinghamshire home in early September. It was just days after the British pair, Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, had been beaten into fourth in the world championships in Milan. There had been some suggestions that they could switch to the coxless four, perceived to be an "easier" event with gold a near certainty.

"The thought did strike me that, if that did happen, I may as well get myself back in condition and join the boat, too," admitted Redgrave. "If we added Ed Coode [currently in the eight] to it, the crew would be the same as the one that rowed so well to win the world championships at St Katherine's, in Canada, in 1999."

Redgrave conceded he was partly inspired by Ed Moses's declaration that he intended to return to the track at the age of 48. "I realised that it's the challenge he wanted. It was the same for me. I asked myself, 'How high can I go?' If I didn't make the four and didn't make the eight, there are two world championship boats. I even discussed the possibility of doing a pair with Greg Searle. Maybe I'd just be 'spare' man for the Olympic team."

He added wryly: "At least it would have spurred Matthew and James on. If they carried on in the pair and say I had got into the four with the possibility of gold, they would make sure they bloody crossed the line first in their event."