Steve Redgrave believed in, and lived by, every sports cliché that there is - hard work, team spirit, controlling the controllables, raising the bar, self-belief, self-motivation. He had to, to win five gold medals in five successive Olympic Games; to make his legend grow from 1984 Los Angeles to 2000 Sydney.
In doing so, Redgrave, Sir since 2001, became the benchmark of longevity in sport. As another sporting icon, Sachin Tendulkar, brings down curtains on his career, we explore what it takes to keep going so far for so long.
“There is no secret to sustaining success, just the love for hard work,” says Redgrave. “When I was 16 I dreamed of being an Olympic champion and worked towards it. I achieved that in 1984 in Los Angeles, and then wanted it again and again and again. Got a bit greedy. It takes enjoyment, passion and desire to do well to compete for that long.”
Full coverage: Sachin's Last Bow
Though Redgrave is averse to choosing his ‘favourite’ gold-medal performance, he said that the 1996 Atlanta medal was the most disappointing for the pressure of expectations it put on him.
“Rowing was not a very popular sport,” he recalls. “But because we had won a few medals by then there was a lot of media pressure on us in Atlanta. We did win the gold, the only gold that (Great) Britain won at those Games. But it left me drained emotionally.
“I am sure the amount of adulation that athletes like Sachin Tendulkar get, it must be sometimes difficult to live in their own shoes. Because spectators want their sporting idols to be god-like. But they are only human. He’s been in that spotlight for so long, it’s incredible.”
While Redgrave himself went through a phase of self-doubt, after the Atlanta and when he was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes that impacted his performance, he believes Sachin still has the quality to perform at the highest level. “Is he keeping younger players from getting into the team? I don’t think so. He, in the past two-three years may have failed Sachin Tendulkar’s standard of batting but he did not as a batsman. If he was in England, he would still be playing for us.”
The 51-year-old also believes that sportsmen should be left to decide when they think they are done with the sport. “People always say that you should finish on a high. But who’s really to say what that high is? After I won my second gold, close friends of mine asked me why I was going for my third Olympic Games. They said you will only either equal or fail expectations. Of course, I loved winning as well. But my thinking was that I could be a better, faster athlete. You have to push yourself to see how far you can get.”
“As long as Sachin thinks he’s retiring for the right reasons, it is the right decision and the right time.”
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