Several of the most decorated athletes in British Olympics history were born on this date. One of them is the greatest male rower in history.
Sir Steve Redgrave is the only endurance athlete to win five consecutive Olympic gold medals. The most titled rower of all time, he won nine world championships, the Silver Goblets a record seven times, and claimed first place in three separate events at the 1986 Commonwealth Games.
Redgrave went unbeaten between 1993 and 1996 and has won every major rowing championship. His 23 titles at the Henley Royal Regatta are unprecedented, as are his five consecutive successes at Wingfield Sculls from 1985 to 1989.
Marlow is a town in south Buckinghamshire, England, about 30 miles west of central London. Situated on the banks of the River Thames, its boating facilities attract summer visitors. Legendary poet T.S. Eliot called Marlow home during World War I and Jim Capaldi, founder of the rock group Traffic, lived there until his death in 2005.
Each June since 1855, Marlow has held its annual Town Regatta and Festival, a weekend-long celebration that includes food, music and rowing. The town is also home to the Marlow Rowing Club. Founded in 1871, it is one of Britain’s premier rowing clubs. In addition to Redgrave—who learned to row at MRC and remains Club President—Marlow Rowing Club has produced Zac Purchase, who won a gold medal in men’s double sculls at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Steven Geoffrey Redgrave was born into a working-class family in Marlow on this date in 1962. His father was a submariner in World War II who became a builder, while his mother was the daughter of a bus driver. Redgrave took up rowing at 16 and, one year later, was competing for Great Britain at the 1979 World Junior Championships.
He left Great Marlow School in 1980 and moved up to Great Britain’s senior team. The Diamond Challenge Sculls, Wingfield Sculls, and London Cup make up the Triple Crown of singles sculling in the United Kingdom. In 1983, Redgrave came to the fore of British rowing when he won the first of two Diamond Challenge Sculls. His international breakthrough came one year later when, at 22, he took gold in Coxed Fours at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
In 1985, he claimed the first of five consecutive titles at the Wingfield Sculls, a 4 ½ mile singles race held annually on the River Thames in London. Redgrave won gold medals in three events at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. One month later at Nottingham, he claimed the first of nine world championships he would win between 1986 and 1999.
Redgrave won his second career Olympic gold medal in Coxless Pairs at the 1988 Seoul Games. He took a break from rowing and became a member of the British bobsled team, winning the British four-man championship in 1989. After being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, Redgrave returned to rowing and earned gold medals in Coxless Pairs at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
Following the ‘96 Atlanta Games, Redgrave—who had been competing in the most grueling of sports at an international level for more than 14 years–said, “Shoot me if you see me in a boat again.” The following year, he learned he had type 2 diabetes. “I decided early on that diabetes was going to live with me,” Redgrave later said. “Not me live with diabetes.” Redgrave returned to rowing and captured his ninth world championship in St. Catherine’s, Canada, in 1999. The following year, he attempted to make Olympic history.
At the World Cup Regatta in Lucerne in July 2000 the unthinkable happened. Britain’s seemingly unbeatable four-man team suffered its first ever defeat, finishing behind Italy, New Zealand, and Australia. Two months later, the teams met again in the Coxless Fours Olympic final. The 2,000 meter race was held at the Sydney International Regatta Centre, a sparkling new venue built specifically for the Games.
After qualifying second to Australia, the Brits took to the course. “Remember these six minutes for the rest of your lives,” Redgrave told his crew mates prior to the start. “Listen to the crowds and take it all in. This is the stuff of dreams.” In a dramatic finish, Great Britain beat Italy by less than a half-second, giving Redgrave a record fifth gold medal. He retired from rowing a month later. In 2002, Redgrave’s final race topped the list of Channel 4-London’s “100 Greatest Sporting Moments.”
Mr. Redgrave was a champion in singles, two-man, and four-man rowing. He started as a sculler [solo] before moving to pairs and fours. His most frequent partner was Matthew Pinsent, with whom he won seven world titles and three Olympic golds. The duo also claimed bronze in men’s coxed pairs at the 1988 Seoul Games. His wife, the former Ann Calloway, competed in women’s coxed eights at the 1984 Summer Olympics, where she helped Great Britain to fifth place.
The 6’5”, 227 pound Redgrave was not the best technical rower, but he is revered in his sport for his intensity and strategic brilliance, with a knack for knowing when to hold back and when to go full bore and break his opponent’s will. He captured gold medals in five consecutive Olympic Games—a feat unmatched by any endurance athlete in history. Redgrave won his first Olympic gold medal at 22 and last at 38.
He set a record in Coxless Pairs at the 1996 Atlanta Games that still stands and held a world record from 1994 to 2002. One of the U.K’s greatest athletes, Redgrave was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1987 and promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1997. Redgrave was voted 2000 BBC Sports Personality of the Year and, in 2001, Sir Steven was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II “for services to Rowing.” In April 2006, he completed his third London Marathon, where he raised a record £ 1,800,000 for charity.
Mr. Redgrave twice carried the flag of Great Britain during opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games and was a torch bearer at the 2012 London Games. A statue of Sir Steven Redgrave—who is a recipient of the BBC’s Sports Personality Lifetime Achievement Award–resides in Higginson Park in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
March 23 is a unique date in British athletics history. In addition to Sir Steven Redgrave, the two greatest Olympian track cyclists in the history of Great Britain celebrate birthdays today. Jason Kenny–a six-time gold medalist and defending Olympic champion in men’s individual sprint—turns 29. Sir Chris Hoy is an 11-time world champion who also has six Olympic gold medals. Hoy turns 41. As if that weren’t enough, Britain’s Mo Farah—winner of four Olympic golds and defending Olympic champion at 10,000 and 5,000 meters—celebrates his 34th birthday today.