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By the time he arrived in Atlanta, British rower Steve Redgrave was already a sporting legend. A powerhouse of a man, he had won gold medals at the previous three Games and was now intent on making history in Atlanta. No rower had ever won gold medals at four different Games. But then again, few rowers had ever had the physique, ability and utter determination of Redgrave.
His Olympic career had begun with a gold in the coxed fours, but he subsequently switched to the coxless pairs, rowing first with Andy Holmes and then, from 1992 onwards, with Matthew Pinsent. In Atlanta, Redgrave and Pinsent were considered strong favourites. As well as being defending champions, they had also won the world championship title four times in a row.
They won their opening heat with some ease, though both the French and Australians laid down early markers, by setting much quicker times in winning theirs. The Australian duo of David Weightman and Robert Scott and the French pairing of Michel Andrieux and Jean-Christophe Rolland were also the quickest two crews in the semi-finals, even though Redgrave and Pinsent won their race by more than a second ahead of the New Zealand pairing of Toni Dunlop and Dave Schaper.
The question was whether Redgrave and Pinsent had been taking it easy, or whether their rivals were truly catching up. The final also marked the pair’s 100th race together, and it quickly became clear that they had been keeping something in reserve for the occasion. They took control of the race during the early stages and led by nearly three seconds at the halfway mark. From that point on, it was just a question of controlling that advantage, and they crossed the line just under a second in front of the Australians, who edged out the French in the battle for silver.
Redgrave famously declared after the race that he wouldn’t get back into a rowing back again – but he later changed his mind and, four years later, won a fifth consecutive gold medal in Sydney at the age of 38.