LONDON, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Steve Redgrave was never a showman like Muhammad Ali but Britain’ five-times Olympic rowing champion said he shared the same supreme self-confidence beneath his understated veneer.
“I‘m the complete opposite in one way -- I wouldn’t go round saying I was going to win this and this -- but I still had those traits within me,” Redgrave told Reuters in an interview.
”I did believe I was going to win them just as strongly but I just wasn’t going to shout about it.
”My thought was: ‘Why give people something to work with, why give them ammunition to maybe go out and train harder?’
“I’d hate to be described as arrogant, but you have to have that belief,” he said. “I don’t like that old-style British way of it all being about the competing.”
Arrogance is not a label often attached to Britain’s greatest Olympian. Knighted for his achievements, he is as likely to insist on being addressed as “Sir Steve” as he is to get back on the water to bid for a sixth gold in 2012.
Ali is among dozens of sporting heroes picked out by Redgrave in his new book “Inspired - Stories of Sporting Greatness” - into which he weaves insights to his own obsessive commitment and the resulting unparalleled achievements.
“When it came to the chapter on ‘belief’ there is no better example than Muhammad Ali,” he said.
It is now nine years since Redgrave dragged his 38-year-old diabetes-racked body through six minutes of agony for the very last time to secure his fifth successive gold on an emotional Sydney morning.
By the time he got to the start line of that race he had long-developed an aura of near-invincibility but said few people understood what it took to stay at the top for so long.
”Every four years you have to be faster,“ he said. ”People just think ‘oh, that’s Redgrave’s boat, they just have to turn up to win’ but around the world there are other crews doing all they can to make sure that isn’t the case.
“In Atlanta Matthew (Pinsent) and I went seven seconds quicker than we had in Barcelona and we won by less than a second. Visually it looks the same but people don’t realise you just have to keep improving.”
Unsurprisingly, Redgrave, who relentlessly pushed his body to exhaustion in training for more than 20 years, felt something of a kinship with Emile Zatopek, the Czech distance runner famed for his extreme training sessions where he would drive himself to the edge of unconsciousness.
“To win the Olympic 5,000 and 10,000m double is impressive in itself but then he raced the marathon for the first time and won that too,” he said. “He had no experience but he knew he’d worked hardest in training so he just backed himself.”
Despite thriving on that diet of competition and challenge for so long Redgrave said he had never regretted his decision to retire after Sydney.
He moved seamlessly from singlet to suit, taking up business opportunities, travelling the speaking circuit and raising millions for charity. He ran the occasional marathon and is now a keen golfer.
“Loads of people said I’d struggle and it would be the hardest thing I’d do -- it was the easiest thing I’ve done in my life,” he said.
Redgrave remains closely linked with the Olympics having played a leading role in securing the 2012 Games for London but he has become frustrated by the mechanics of putting the event together and has no official role with LOCOG, the Games’ organising committee.
“The bid document made so many promises of how we would inspire not just the youth but the world and then 2012 Ltd gets broken up by IOC rules and suddenly LOCOG and the Olympic Delivery Authority are suddenly saying ‘oh, no, that’s not our responsibility,” he said.
“I’ve just taken on a new role of looking at the human legacy of the Games. We are making sure there’s not a missed opportunity.”
As if he has not done enough already, he adds: “There is a lot we can do to inspire people.” (Editing by Sonia Oxley; To comment on this story: (firstname.lastname@example.org)