Olympic Games : Pinsent the silent partner

Norman Fox in Atlanta looks at the man who rows in Redgrave's shadow
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The Independent Online
Steve Redgrave is on the verge of becoming the most successful oarsman of all time - unless, that is, Matthew Pinsent just happens to go down with Atlanta tummy or, more likely, sunstroke. While everyone has been talking about Redgrave's pursuit of his fourth Olympic gold medal, his partner in the coxless pairs, which starts today, has been largely ignored. Their coach, Jurgen Grobler, says Pinsent's contribution is greatly underestimated.

All three are enormously confident that come the final next Saturday the gold medal will be won. Redgrave will be elevated amongst the great Olympians and Pinsent will be looking around for a new partner. Redgrave said he would retire after the Barcelona Olympics four years ago but found he could not cope without something that had consumed his interest for so long. This time, though, he says Pinsent will soon have to go out "and buy his own drinks". First, though, he will buy Pinsent a large one.

Grobler believes Pinsent, who is only 25, nine years younger than Redgrave, can form another pair with one of the younger oarsmen. But as good? "You have to remember what he has contributed to Steven's greater fame. He has always been underestimated. He is a very strong athlete. In certain things his performance is better than Steven Redgrave's. His endurance level is higher. I have never in 25 years here and in Germany seen anyone with such endurance. He is also mentally strong under pressure - he always seems to have something in reserve."

Grobler thinks life after the Olympics could be more difficult for Pinsent than for Redgrave. "Their six years together has brought a lot of success - now he has to start a new rowing career, almost a new life, and find a new partner. I don't think he will go for the singles."

Curiously, Redgrave himself confesses that in spite of all his success he still feels slightly unfulfilled because he never succeeded in the single sculls, which he thinks of as the ultimate test. Pinsent thinks differently and agrees with Grobler that his own future is likely to remain in the coxless pairs.

"It's going to be a big change for him because they have experienced so much together. He is going to need good management around him. Luckily we have a lot of promising young guys around who would want to row with him and would show the same commitment to him that he does to Steven," Grobler explained.

Pinsent says that "all" he and Redgrave intend doing over the coming week is to "stop the pressure getting to us and generally finding out our own rhythm". Tactically, the pair will perform in exactly the same way that has seen them unbeaten since before the last Olympics.

"I know it doesn't sound very English to say that we expect to win - when Steve said that the other day my mother told me off for counting our chickens - but in the final after two minutes the weaker crews will start dropping back and after three or four minutes some of the others will and if we think we are the strongest and the best then by the middle of the race we are going to be in the lead. Once there, you call the shots," Pinsent said.

He said he wished the pace of any particular race could be more predictable, especially in the heat here. "It would certainly hurt less," he said. "In the final I would love to think that we could be leading by five or six lengths, but I've a feeling it could be tighter than that. We made ourselves favourites four years ago - so it's no surprise, nothing new. On the start you just think about the practical things. It doesn't worry me at all that millions of people expect us to win."

He thinks that since Barcelona their performances have often improved. "If we just said we were only hoping for a medal rather than expecting to win we would be lying and look stupid. Why bother to hide the fact that we are positive and are capable of having one of the best rows in our lives."

France and Australia may put up a fight, but Pinsent and Redgrave have had comfortable wins over the French who themselves have beaten the Australians. Pinsent believes that by the time it comes to the final both of their leading opponents will already be demoralised.

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