Dedication, determination and an oar-some man

Today marks the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.
The Olympics is always a fantastic exhibition of people at the top of their sport, and by the time the closing ceremony wraps things up on 24th August I’m sure we’ll have seen some classic moments that’ll live forever.

To get you into the mood, today I’ll share with you one of my favourite Olympic – in fact, sporting in general – moments of all time.

First, step back with me four years from the event…

27th July 1996, Atlanta. Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent win the men’s coxless pairs. Afterwards, an elated but exhausted Redgrave said that people had his full permission to shoot him if he was ever seen near a boat again.

A hero. Four gold medals in consecutive Olympics. Wow.

In the years that followed, his appendix had to be removed, he injured his arm and, to cap it all, he was then diagnosed with diabetes.

Then, I heard he was going for a fifth in Sydney 2000. My heart broke. A legend gone one step too far.

Fast forward to 23rd September 2000, in a bar in Tenerife…

I, along with every Brit around me, stopped the night’s frivolities to watch the final of the Olympic men’s coxless four in Australia. Redgrave was on the start line, going for the impossible fifth; Matthew Pinsent, alongside him, his third. Cracknell and Tim Foster would be happy for their first. Would the legend be tarnished or set in gold for eternity?

22,000 fans – dominated by Brits – lined the river banks in Sydney as our four men started their quest. Every day for four long years they’d trained just for this moment. Every competing nation knew that no rower would finish before giving their absolute all, every last ounce of energy, to get to the line. For Redgrave, there was no future. Past was forgotten. Only the present mattered. It began…

They were doing well. They were doing very well! Come on!! Keep going, boys. We can win it. He’s going to get his fifth gold! But are they tiring? It’s getting closer! Is that the line? *$%^ing COME ON!!!!!! Have they done it??? Was that the line – I can’t hear a thing from all this shouting around me!! No – there’s still more. Here come Italy – they’re coming back at us!!

I screamed and urged them home in the last few meters, battling off a brave Italian comeback – but they didn’t let me down. As they crossed the finish line just 0.38 seconds ahead, the whole bar went absolutely crazy.
Eight years on, writing this very sentence, I can still feel the emotion run through me.

It was simply one of the finest, most memorable things I’ve ever seen. I knew I’d witnessed the culmination of years of effort and a strive for perfection that they knew had to be met. With rowing, 99% is just good enough for silver.

The late Roy Castle sung about dedication. The greatest Olympians show determination to the extreme. If I or anyone thinks of quitting or that things are getting too tough, then just consider Sir Steven Redgrave’s example, what he went through and what he ultimately achieved.

Best of the best? For me – absolutely.

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