Sir Steve Redgrave, Britain’s greatest ever Olympic rower, will have front row seats for Rio 2016 as ambassador for Team GB. But even when he’s not in the stadium, he’s a passionate armchair fan. Sometimes too passionate, as Radio Times discovered to its cost…
You won’t actually be at home during the Olympics, Sir Steve?
No. I’ll be in Rio working for the BBC and as an ambassador for Team GB. I’ll be honoured to be up close with the latest crop of athletes at the age of 54.
Did you always want to be an Olympian?
As a kid you follow the sport that you see most of on the television, so in the 60s and early 70s I dreamt about playing in the FA Cup final for Chelsea. At my state school we played football, then the head of English asked me if I’d like to try rowing. Going to the river during school time? Yes please!
And you went on to beat all the public school boys in the sport.
Early on in my career, people were saying, “You’re capable of being an Olympic champion,” so I took that mantle on. Hopefully, I would have done whatever background I came from. But it’s not always the case: the opportunity of playing different sports and the coaching abilities at private schools are, unfortunately, much greater than at the state schools. But it’s not as bad as people think it is.
How old were you when you first watched the Olympics?
Six. My parents got a colour TV for Mexico City 1968, though I don’t remember much of the Games. But I remember Munich 1972, when I was ten, and then in 1976 when gymnast Nadia Comaneci delivered a perfect score. Later I took my ten-year-old son, Zak, to the Beijing Olympics. We were in the stadium for the 200m and Usain Bolt blew him away.
If you and Zak have a kick about in the garden, must you win?
Yes. If you do elite sports, or any sport, you hone those instincts. That never leaves you, though the ability does. So even playing with kids in the garden, I would never give them an easy victory just to massage their ego. They have to work hard to earn it.
Winning Gold in 2000
Do you race your trolley to the head of the supermarket queue?
I’m not that bad. I’m competitive with myself, trying to get the best out of me, not really beating other people – but that’s what most sport is, it’s about the personal challenge.
Do you get emotionally involved when you’re watching stuff?
Sport is very emotional. I get passionate in my armchair and shout at the screen.
So you don’t turn off the passion?
Why would you turn it off?
So you can focus on, say, carrying an Olympic torch into a stadium with 900 million people watching on TV, as you did in 2012?
I trust myself not to drop an Olympic torch. My thoughts were on the seven youngsters I passed the torch on to. I’m sure they were a lot more nervous than I was.
Did you get annoyed by cyclists winning more medals than you?
After Bradley Wiggins won the team pursuit in Beijing someone said, “If Bradley wins the medal in the points event with Mark Cavendish in two days he’ll go above you as the most decorated Olympic medallist.” That shocked me because I’d gone eight years from winning my last medal without realising; I didn’t know I was at the top of the tree. I thought, “I’m only going to have this for two days!” So I was a bit miffed. Unfortunately for Mark and Bradley they didn’t get into the medals, so I had that title for another four years and two days.
Are you worried about the Rio Games? So far it hasn’t had the best publicity…
I’m feeling very positive. Look at Beijing. After the opening ceremony there’s no talk about drugs, or human rights issues; it’s about all those sports with the world’s best athletes competing. That’s how it should be.