The full text of exclusive interview of S. Redgrave to the British Rowing Club, May 12, 2010, Marlow, UK
Publication of your book in translation is timed to the 150th anniversary of Russian rowing. There were glorious pages in the history of Russian rowing. Are you familiar with the names of the most prominent Russian rowers - Yuri Tyukalov, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Oleg Golovanov and Valentin Boreyko, Alexander Timoshinin, Vladimir Eshinov? Over the years, you were competing with the Pimenov brothers on the water. Do you have respect for the athletic achievements of these people? Do you believe that you are united with them, as with other Olympic champions, by the spirit of loyalty to the sport, the spirit of winners?
Some of the names I know very well. Ivanov is in the first place, since I had dreamed of becoming a great single sculler. I very well knew his constant rival Stuart McKenzie, who often came to England and has a record number of Diamond Challenge Sculls prizes won at the Henley regatta. Ivanov came only once and beat McKenzie. I am very happy that Ivanov used to always beat McKenzie at the Olympics, putting him in his place. They were legends of the sport.
From the more recent history, I certainly have met with the Pimenov brothers. They, together with the East German Landvoygt brothers, dominated the international scene, when I was entering it. They had outstanding results at the world championships, and I raced with them several times. In general, I have great respect for Russian rowing and its history. Russian rowers traveled several times to our Henley regatta before my time. I heard the incredible story of the arrival of the Russian eight, which once brought the boat on the top of a ship. Now, we have easier ways to move the boats around the world. Once again I want to express my great respect for what Russia has done in our sport, to the great athletes that it had.
I know the history of the Pimenovs better, as it happened before my eyes. The first time I saw them "live" was at the regatta in the East German Gr?nau in 1984. That year, I won the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and the Pimenovs should have also won if not the shameful boycott. I then rowed with Martin Cross, who was a very good friend of the Pimenovs. So, then, in Gr?nau, I saw the race in the middle of the distance, and the Pimenovs were 5-4 hulls ahead, they were head and shoulders above the rest. This inspired me a lot. In 1986, the Pimenovs won the World Championships in Nottingham in the coxless pair, and I and Andy Holmes won in the coxed pair. Then we changed to the coxless pair and beat the Pimenovs, except for one time in 1990 at the World Championships in Tasmania. The Pimenovs, of course, were the legends of world rowing. They loved to party after the races. They smoked. I do not know of any other rowers of such level, who smoked, but the Pimenovs did. Although, there was the Argentine single sculler Demidi, who also smoked. In the last years of their career, the Pimenovs brought a lot of vodka to the parties after regattas, where they invited us too. However, they themselves did not drink a lot, allowing others to drink more ...? They were fantastic rowers, but also very interesting personalities. For some reason, the sport in general has lost that kind of personalities, because now everyone must train hard and be focused. This is connected with the money that is spent on training of elite athletes, all become somewhat average. You have to fit into the system, you have to do it and you lose some of those strong characters that were in my era of rowing.
I also know the Pimenov brothers well, spent much time with them in the USSR national team. Unfortunately, the political system of that time left its imprint on us all. For example, in your book, you write, that, in 1980, your government tried to stop the British athletes from going to the Olympics, but still such a possibility remained. In 1984, Soviet athletes did not have the slightest chance, they just would not let them out of the country.
Yes, in 1980, the government tried to stop us from going to the Olympics in Moscow what was wrong. I still regret it. Not because I did not compete then, because most likely would not have gotten to the finals with that level of preparedness. However, the opportunity to go to the Games, a trip to Russia, to Moscow, for me, a 18-year old, could be a fantastic experience. I find it very hypocritical when the U.S. government did not release their team, but continued to trade grain with the Soviet Union, as it had to do with money. Of course, this should not happen again. 2010 is the 65th anniversary of the Anti-Hitler Coalition victory, in which the British fought side by side with the Russian, in World War II. Your grandfather produced parts for the "Spitfires", in which the Russian pilots fought. What does this victory, our common history, and prospects of friendship and cooperation between our nations mean for you? What role in this cooperation can the sport play?
I think the sport has always played a major role in co-operation and goodwill. One of the reasons for the Olympic movement in ancient times was the cessation of wars between tribes. Olympics had begun to stop the battle, and the people gathered to compete. This is a great role that sports can play. We've already talked about the shameful boycotts of 1980-84, but since 1988, the Olympic Games have played a leading role in overcoming barriers, separation of people, in their uniting. Sports should play a greater role in connecting communities of people, development of friendship. The desire to win has to be realized on playing grounds and not on battlefields. Going back to the days of the war, when I was not there yet. Of course, my parents remember the days when they were young children. I think it was a very close connection between the Russian people and the British, as well as the French and, later, the Americans in their joint struggle against the Nazi regime.
The Second World War caused great damage to our country, millions of lives were lost. In many ways, connection between the generations was lost, what still could be felt. For example, my grandfather died when my father was only 8 years old, so my father grew up without a father and, therefore, did not understand, how to educate his sons.
Yes, the victims, lost by the Russian, were enormous, and we must never forget any of the allies, and how they fought. I am always amazed, I know this piece of history a little. When the Russian retreated, they devastated the land, industry, put barrier. This did not touch me until, in 1979, I arrived and saw these iron crosses on the outskirts of Moscow. I was just shocked at how close the Germans were. If not the courage and dedication of the Russian, the Germans probably would have won, the whole course of history would be different.
Today, the sport as part of culture is experiencing stiff competition from the Intrenet, virtual simulators, and the ideology of pleasure and consumption. What is your opinion on the situation - pessimistic or optimistic? How do we have to organize the sport today? How can we stimulate people's motivation to go for sports?
Technology is changing our lives and makes it much easier. When we were kids, I think, sports, exercises were more important. I do not know about the situation in Russia, but our children do not do enough activity, since it was reduced in schools. We have now launched a campaign to increase physical exercise, since two mandatory hours of physical exercise a week is ridiculously little. Some video games that appear are now trying to rectify the situation and to combine the game with physical activity, but much more activity should be organized in schools, clubs - in people's community. Technology binds a man to the screen, the worst example is America. We do not go anywhere, we drive everywhere. I spent last month in Vancouver, pretty decent city. Once, I got to a dinner on the other side of town. My accreditation allowed me to travel everywhere by car. I decided to walk to the house, but Canadians told me: "Oh, it's so far away! You'd better drive." It was a 20-minute walk, which is fun on a Saturday night, and allows to see the city, feel its culture and lifestyle. Many of Canadian and American cities are adapted only for traveling by car. There are not many towns like ours, where you can walk, maybe New York and Boston only. In general, a daily physical activity is the foundation of the nation's health. Most of the charity events, that I am engaged in, are aimed at attracting young people to physical activity. Of course, the expression itself does not capture the young people, and we try to find different non-trivial forms.
We cannot do without technology, it makes our lives easier, but we need to know about its effects. My son wants to play the Play Station all the time, which he, nearly always, does after school. However, at school, which he attends, they play sports everyday. I'm not against kids having fun, but "the right buttons" should be triggered sometimes.
From Vancouver, I brought a set of bright impressions: snowboard, ski... An Olympic sport often looks quite traditional, "over-organized", so slightly different perspective is important for young people, for instance, beach volleyball. It also becomes fun, not just sports.
One of my works for the government, for the 2012 Organizing Committee, is a "humanitarian legacy" after the Games - how do we appeal to our youth, the meaning of the Games for them. British sport will benefit from the Games, but it is not enough for me: the entire population of Britain should benefit, and increase their exercise.
I often visit Australia, a very athletic country. There's a different climate, as well as, in South Africa. They have the advantage of the weather. But even in Australia we have the same problems.
Let me put the question at a slightly different angle: I think it is not only technology, but also social security, lifestyle, making life secure and not stimulating the struggle for existence.
Health and safety are important, but the bureaucracy in this area has gone too far. You cannot do this or that, because you can injure yourself. I remember, a few years ago, we did a promotional film with the BBC in the rowing club Leander. It was filmed by a huge group: operators, sound engineers, directors and many others. Our four was sitting on the boxes from the cameras, which then had to be moved a little bit, for which the head of the group was going to use a special team of porters. We easily moved the boxes, what was a big surprise to the journalists: "Oh, you cannot do that!".
Americans have a lot of things, they have to pay for in their society. This is not good when we have cases of child abuse by a teacher or a sports leader, but it should be considered in context. If there is a single incident of abuse, even one occurrence is too much, but it does not mean that the bureaucratic response should change the lives of 60 million people. We must make every effort to eliminate abuse, but we cannot stop sporting activities for all people. When I was starting rowing at the club Marlow, just 50 meters from here, my first teacher and coach used to give us, students, a ride home after training. Now he could not do that, because a teacher is forbidden to carry a group of children. But precisely because of his attitude, my first trainer succeeded, prepared a lot of good rowers, many of them became members of the National Team. I find it very sad, because we want to give people opportunities, but often care more about what not to do than about what to do, not how to make it easier, but the harder - the better. Therefore, we do not have a large inflow of the general public to the clubs.
Sports science is slightly touched on in your book "Golden Era", where you mentioned a psychologist, who participated in the preparation of the team. Did you have any other examples of work with sports science throughout your career? What can you say about the role of sports science in modern sport from both the technological and ethical point of view. How do you see this role in the future?
Sports science has become a very important part of all sports. By the way, I have encountered it already in the evaluation process. In rowing, the length of athlete's levers (body segments) is critical, tall height is an advantage in our sport. So my first coach, Francis Smith, invited me to go rowing - I was pretty tall, I had big hands and feet, and if a young man has big feet, he is likely to grow a tall man. That was a very simple form of sports science and selection process: bringing people to something, what they can do well. Of course, it is necessary to solve many issues and acquire skills to be able to compete at the highest level. If you go in the right direction, choose the right sport, you have a better chance of success. People generally like what they can do and do not like what they cannot. The main sports, which can be seen on TV in Britain are football, rugby, cricket. And if you see something every day, you usually start to do it. If your physique is not suited for this sport, it will not bring you pleasure, you're likely to give it up, you'll want to do something else and give up sports in general. Therefore, the process of directing people according to their abilities is a very important thing. This all is about the lower level of sport. I do not think we should force people to do anything, it should be their own choice. We need to organize the program in such a way that it would happen naturally - if you're engaged in something suitable for you, you'll do it with a strong intent. For example, if we force someone to play football, who have insufficient coordination and possession, the person will riot and, generally, give up all sorts of activities.
If we are talking about an elite sport, we can see a huge change compared to the emptiness that was in the late 1970s. In Britain, the sports science is at the front edge and helps to give the best chance of success to athletes. But there must also be boundaries and limits. Obviously, this is a doping problem, such things as steroids should not be used. We are talking about encouraging people to play sports, not only about an individual. Would I like my children to go in for sports? Yes! Would I like to see them breaking the rules, using dope? No! Sports in general should be very precise - where those limits are. And here the problems arise, because, as a nation, we want to be the best. I do not know how it works in Russia, but in our country, all funding is based on a four-year cycle. Based on how we stand at the Olympics depends how much money we get for the next four years. The better you perform, the more money you get - better chances to attract good coaches, support staff, better nutrition, better resources (measurement of lactate in our sport and other tests), opportunities within the rules to show the best of what you can. Therefore, we must be sure that these boundaries are not crossed, and though it is not easy, it is a very important area that we need to manage both nationally and internationally.
Do you see the problem that some sportsmen get the support of sports science and technology, while others - no? Therefore, sport is becoming a competition between sport systems and technologies, and not people. What are your thoughts on this topic?
One of our achievements in rowing, in recent years, was the fact that our inventory has been improving, but it does not become a factor dictating the victory. We want the best sportsmen to win the Games, not the countries, that invest more resources in boats, to win gold medals. I think we can do more to spread our knowledge in the sports science and infrastructure. Because rowing is a very expensive sport, and we need to get more countries involved, the big countries in our sport have to small countries in their development of rowing. There was an interesting conversation in Vancouver: One of our problems is that we do not invest enough resources in the training of trainers, and we tend to buy that knowledge from other countries, for instance, the East German coaches are in many sports now. In the DDR, it was necessary to study in a university for five years and then specialize. During the "Iron Curtain", in the GDR, they invested in coaches, because they knew that they would not leave the country and would remain in their society. Once the walls collapsed, there is no other countries that support coaching education, as it was done in East Germany. I think this is bad, no one pushes the boundaries. With a little malice, I suggested the idea: maybe the coach should also represent his country as an athlete? For example, as an Olympic athlete, I can only compete for the Great Britain. Why do not we do the same with coaches? Maybe we should have one foreign coach in the team, but the idea is to develop local coaches in the country. Countries developing the sport could have the best coaches in the world, helping their athletes, but also helping coaches, helping to create their own system of training athletes. I know it will never happen, but as a theory it's a pretty good idea. We cannot say that we do not need foreigners in the sport, since the spread of knowledge makes us stronger. In our country, we support athletes before the Olympics-2012, and are willing to pay foreign coaches for that, but also need to prepare our own high-level coaches. If you comprehend your science, you make mistakes, and those mistakes stay with you, therefore, some athletes say, "I'm not going to work with this coach," the coach is moving to another country and takes with him his entire baggage of experience.
I agree with you in terms of coaching legacy. Coaches are not disposed to share their knowledge, because they are competitors, and I think this plays an important role in the sports science.
This is also true for athletes: we always try to find something better, the best coaches, best training, best equipment. It is very important to maintain boundaries, to move our sport forward, but in a controlled environment. Everyone should have equal opportunities. In our country, in anticipation of the home Olympics, it is allocated more money on sports, so we are able to attract experts from abroad. However, after 2012, we will have problems with financing. Now we spend a lot of public money for the preparation, because we do not want to lose, when other countries are doing well. For example, the Canadians had three Olympic Games (Montreal - 1976, Calgary - 1988, and Vancouver -2010), and, until the last, they did not win any gold medals at home. I was shocked when I learned it, as the Canadians are the leaders in many sports, summer and winter, but they never won when welcoming the Olympics. So, it became a very big topic of these games. In the first days of the Games you could hear in the media: "Where is the Canada's first gold medal in their own land?" The first day they did not win, had a few chances, but this did not happen, which caused a lot of reflection and sadness: "We have so much money spent, what's going on ... "As a result, Canadians led the medals table, ahead of America, Germany and Russia, and won 14 gold medals. Canadians did not win more medals than any other country in total, but it depends on how you look at the table you see: if we speak with Americans or Canadians, they have the same principle, they count all the medals. It has its roots in the Cold War, because the Russian usually won more gold medals, but the Americans won more medals in various denominations, so they changed their priorities, having made the total number of medals more important.
In Seoul-1988, we used a new rudder on our boat, but we won not because of that, we were better prepared. Athletes win competitions, not inventory.
Your book "Golden Era" shows very clearly that the money was not the main factor in your motivation. However, today we can see increasing commercialization of elite sport. What can you say about that? Can the money be used to motivate young athletes?
I have just arrived from the Laureus World Sports Awards, and most of the nominees for individual awards were from commercial sports and quite a bit - from "amateur", and this becomes a problem. If you have invested you time and effort to climb to the highest level in sport, you should get paid for that. We see - people get very generous payment in some commercial sports, and in others - they do not. For example, my son loves to watch and play football, he sees himself as a professional footballer in the future, but he does not have enough abilities to do so. He will be tall, because his parents are tall, and will be prone to rowing, but he sees the millions received by football players, good life after a few years in the sport, it attracts with its romance, not reality.
Can sport become better, advertising itself? Yes. However, we do not promote ourselves enough. In Canada, I talked to Tricia Smith (a member of the Presidium of the FISA) about the idea about supersprint in rowing that I promoted in the late 1990s. We tried to bring rowing to the centers of large cities, to create a more impressive short program and earn more money for rowing, without changing the international aspect of the sport. Rowing is a traditional type, we need our 2000m races to save the historical origins of rowing. Over the past two decades, it becomes increasingly difficult, because rowing is an expensive sport. There are problems with sponsors. The flow of athletes is quite stable, but we need to attract wider masses. In rowing, generally, athletes are tall, there is a choice: rowing, basketball or rugby. There is big money in those sports, and in rowing - not. Therefore, we need to make rowing "glamorous", fashionable, in order to compensate for the lack of finance. The financial motivation is the key element, but it should be used cautiously. When people reach a certain age (my son is only 12), they may discover that some sports suit them better. It can be rowing or basketball. In tennis, or golf, people can do good without being on top. Of course, they are not multimillionaires, but I, having spent 25 years in rowing, did not receive money at all. Being successful in sport, I managed to become successful in business after my sporting career. I think teens should not worry about money, but try to choose the sport which suites them best.
When we trained in Leander, there are still traces on the floor from the large boats, which were dragged to the water and holes through which water is poured. This room has become the bar hall now. The ceiling there is worn out and began to leak during the showers. They put carpet on the floor, but it begins to float when the water flow in. And of course, all this is covered with mold and the environment becomes unpleasant. But we were successful because we were good athletes. Yes, the infrastructure was poor, so what? We became good athletes, not because of the habitat, but because the coach inspired us and we tried to climb higher.
In our country, the richest sport is tennis, because there is Wimbledon, but it is the least successful sport in our country. Therefore, the money is not all that matters.
During your athletic career you worked with very different coaches: good motivators on the early stages and with a great technical expert. What makes a good coach? In your book you mentioned the importance of coaching education. How does one organize this training effectively?
Communication is the most important thing. All coaches in rowing speak the same language, but one can convey a message, and others - no. My first international level coach Mike Spraklen could explain to people, what he wanted from them. And it made sense. From the other coaches, for example, Penny Chuter had incredible knowledge, more than anyone else, but she did not have the ability to convey it to the athletes. I think communication is the most important thing. A coach must have a passion and transmit information with this passion. We often see that the most productive athletes do not become good coaches. For example, I could also be a coach since spent many years in our sport. However, my passion is to climb the highest step, and the passion to help someone to do it is not the same thing. Maybe someone, who has not realized his passion as an athlete, can realize it as a coach with greater success. We see this in many sports, even football.
There is a rather thin edge: on one hand, we have enough resources to provide to an athlete so that he could compete at a high level, but if we provide too much, passion to become the best can disappear, life can become too comfortable. Money can be a good motivator, but they can also not be.
In conclusion, a few words about what you are doing now. Who is Sir Steven Redgrave now? What are your main activities?
Good question. I do not have core activities. When i left rowing, on which I had spent 25 years, I wanted to try out different activities. For me, it was important not to repeat myself and expand my sphere of interests. In British rowing, there is no prize money, but most people think that, when you finish a career, you are wealthy. Therefore, I have to work. Immediately after I returned from my first Olympics, and then every year after that, I was invited to speak the speech, so that I would say "wise words" about how I have achieved success and how it can be correlated with my success in business. I did this for a long time, but the problem is that when you are invited to give a speech, you get paid for appearing. If you are sick, on vacation or cannot do that for other reasons, you do not get paid. So, I started several business projects. One of them is the 5G company selling apparel and accessories for sports and recreation, which works pretty well. It is convenient for me that I do not have to be there every day. I have another company - Juice Doctor, where I own a small stake. In the clothing business 5G, I own 50% of shares, I am on the board of directors and participate in strategic decision making. I've been involved in the Fair Trade movement, and visit different countries with this mission. In the drinks business I own less stocks - one-tenth of the company, - but do roughly the same thing in management. Of course, my position is helping these companies, but I also help in the selection of areas for development. I still give speeches as a spokesperson. I play a role in the financial system VISA (credit cards), where I am leading the Team VISA project to help young people.
As the Olympics take place once every four years only, the Olympics is a different event in comparison to the World Cups. Therefore, sports life skills are important - nutrition, sleep, etc., and, in this aspect, I have a great experience that I share with the teams.
I took a great part in applying for the London Olympics, and now, the government asked me to watch after the program "Humanitarian heritage", concerning the use of sport objects, equipment and facilities after the Games. One of the areas of work is to attract more coaches to the sport. If we train one athlete and he becomes the Olympic champion, it's great, but a coach can train hundreds or thousands of athletes.
I am a member of the Comic Relief trust board - a charitable organization, specializing in the care of sick children. We recently collected a record sum of 5 million pounds during the famous London Marathon. I am the president of the British Rowing Federation. I am the Vice President of Diabetes Association of the United Kingdom. Also, I'm working on the concept of Coaching Academy, which will provide an opportunity to row for more people in the world. One of the first projects will be opened in India. Soon, I will take part in another charity project - eight rowers will participate in a bike relay race across America. I still like to play golf.
You look pretty sporty. What other exercise do you do?
I also play tennis a little. I have to ride a bike more now, but I was in Vancouver for almost a month. I love skiing, I even became a ski instructor of a lower level. My children are also very fond of skiing and snowboarding.
How about skeleton or bobsleigh, which you were practicing a little bit at the end of 1980s?
Being in Vancouver, I felt an appetite. The Skeleton Federation President even invited me to ride - there was a race for bobsleigh veterans, but I decided not to tempt fate.