DIARY: COUNTDOWN TO LONDON 2012
Having had the honour of carrying the Olympic Torch along the River Thames at Henley earlier today, it was delightful to return to my home town to help the local school children be a part of this special event.
There's no denying that Marlow would have loved to have been on the route of the Olympic Torch but when it became apparent that this wasn't to be, Marlow Town Council got busy planning their own Torch Relay.
Over 700 children from several of the local primary schools gathered at Higginson Park where a circuit had been prepared using ropes and paint.
There were three official Olympic Torches in attendance including my own so we set about kissing torches to start of the relay and each of the children completed a 150 metre lap of the circuit.
It was tremendous fun and congratulations to Marlow Town Council and all the school children. It was a fabulous idea and I was very happy to be part of the whole event. I didn't even mind signing each of the medals handed out to children as a momento of their Marlow Olympic Torch Relay.
The Olympic Torch has drawn crowds all over the country and today was no exception. The Torch arrived in Henley on Thames, the location of the Leander Club, one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world and the club supplying half of the 48 strong rowing team for this year's Olympic Games.
With London 2012 just 17 days away, it seemed very fitting that the Torch should travel along the river in Henley, the official rowing venue in the previous British Olympics in 1908 and 1948.
All three main rowing clubs on this stretch of the River Thames - Leander, Henley and Upper Thames - were represented at this historic occasion. Starting at the River and Rowing Museum, I was asked to carry the Torch along the river in an eight coxed by Gary Herbert and powered by two rowers from each club plus a security guard.
Having rowed from Museum, with one hand keeping a firm grip on the Torch, under Henley Bridge and onto Phillys Court, the boat turned round to complete its journey at the official finishing line of the previous Olympic Games.
The occasion was very, very, special and I was honoured to look after the Olympic Torch as it travelled along the stretch where I used to train come rain or shine. Unfortunately, we did not see much sunshine as the weather has been far from summery but, fortunately, the Environment Agency slowed the flow down temporarily so everyone was safe and sound. Plus we were travelling with an experienced crew so everything was in hand, including the Torch.
Countdown to London 2012: Wimbledon - a rare treat
9th July 2012
It was great to be part of the excitement of the Wimbledon's men's final this year, especially with a Brit, in the form of Andy Murray, trying to end the 76 year title drought since Fred Perry won in 1936.
I have enjoyed Wimbledon many times but this was the first time I have seen a final. We all now know that it wasn't to be Andy's day but no one could doubt his commitment to the game he clearly loves, although he probably won't feel that way for the next few days.
Murray started very well but, even though he took the first set, he didn't seem to hurt Federer who displayed the great patience and calm we have come to expect from him. The last two sets saw Federer take charge and, from the moment the roof closed, he looked like the winner.
There are three brilliant players on the men's singles tennis circuit at the moment and it seems there's always one peaking just at the wrong time for Andy. It couldn't be clearer how much he cares, no one could fail to be moved as he struggled to gain his composure to thank his camp, his family, his friends and his fanbase, the membership of which I would guess grew innumerably yesterday.
His game and fitness levels have taken him to a place where he is vying for titles at the highest level in his sport. Hopefully we will see him win a Grad Slam title in his career. His time will come. Maybe he will even win an Olympic medal next month.
In this, an Olympic year, Henley Royal Regatta is playing host to 133 international crews. This is the second largest number of overseas entries in the history of the Regatta.
These entrants, together with the 366 home crews, will mean that Henley is going to be a particularly busy Regatta this year.
Many top international under-23 crews will be in competition although there will, of course, be an absence of Olympic crews. As preparations for the Games are at a vital point, TeamGB will be focussed on making sure they are ready for the biggest race of their careers. That's not true for all teams though, two female single scullers from El Salvador will be making an appearance and using it as part of their training schedule for the Games in a few weeks time.
Today will see the qualifiers take place. It is a time when many crews will find out whether or not they will get the opportunity to show their talents at the main prestigious event. Unfortunately, many will leave disappointed. The Temple Challenge Cup will see 47 University 8s racing for 12 places, while the Princess Royal Challenge Cup, the women's single sculls, will dismiss 11 of 15 teams with only four going through.
Whoever qualifies, there is little hope for any brilliant times as the weather conditions are not being kind and the flow rate is definitely not providing an environment in which crews can break any records. Saying that, some qualifiers will still manage to shine and find themselves placed with the pre-selected crews if they achieve the required standard.
After the qualifiers are complete, all the crews will find out who they will be racing when the Regatta opens on Wednesday, 27th June.
I'm looking forward to it but hoping that I won't need an umbrella!
Sir Steve comments following the announcement that the British Olympic Association ratified GB Taekwondo's selection of Lutalo Muhammad ahead of world number one Aaron Cook for London 2012.
Having known Aaron personally since the build up to last Olympics, and through to his status as the World No. 1, I am surprised at the selection of the talented, but inexperienced, Lutalo Muhammad.
Given the process so far, I think that whatever decision was made, everyone was going to be put in a very difficult situation. Whichever athlete was selected, Aaron or Lutalo, there was always going to be a tremendous pressure to perform, not just in terms of competing at the Olympic Games and, believe me, that is enough pressure for anyone, but because of the controversy around a contentious selection process.
Media wise, if the selected competitor doesn't perform, the media, and some people in the general public, are going to say that the other should have been selected.
To my mind, the only way forward was to have a fight off. At the moment, they are equal having each won one fight in their two encounters, albeit with different factors affecting each encounter. A fight off would have provided an emphatic decision and would galvanise the country to support the selected athlete through the Olympic Games.
Having questioned the decision by GB Taekwondo to omit Aaron Cook from their four-man team for London 2012, many people are asking why.
Aaron is ranked No. 1 in the world in the -80kg category, the announcement confirming this was made today. He is European Champion in the same category and he competed at the age of 17 in Beijing four years ago, coming 4th.
The question has to be asked why GB Taekwondo have selected someone who competes in a different weight category with a world ranking of 56. Lutalo Muhammad is in a higher weight division, meaning he would need to drop a few pounds before competing and he has less experience. He may well have potential, and, if so, I would be the first to encourage him, but the Olympic Games are in a few weeks.
The selection seems to be illogical and unscientific which is why I questioned it, and probably why the BOA have refused to ratify the decision and asked GB Taekwondo to justify their reasoning.
I hope the right decision is reached and we can rest easy that it has been made based on the available facts.
Having travelled to Devizes on Good Friday, Roger and I checked our boat ready for an early start on Saturday morning. Saying that, having got up at 3am to train in the weeks leading up to the race, the start time of 7am was a bit of a lie-in.
I explained last week that I have been doing an excellent impression of a worried man. Had we trained enough? Were we fit enough? At 125 miles long, this race is unforgiving for the unprepared and the unfit. I felt a little happier when we bumped into Sarah Winckless (Olympic Bronze medalist in Beijing) and Ben Hunt Davis, (Olympic Gold medalist in 2000), who had only started training six weeks earlier. It was yet to be seen whether I was right to feel happier, there was no guarantee that more training equated to a better result!
Having looked into the finer points of tides and river conditions, we decided to start our race at 9.45am and predicted that we could complete the course in 21.5 hours.
We started well and the 55 miles of canals on the Avon and Kennet went reasonably well, too. There are 77 locks on the course but, once you get to Reading, there are only 20 left so, having reached this point, we were on schedule and feeling positive. We were looking forward to hitting the river because, normally, there is extra flow which helps you go about 1 mile an hour quicker. Unfortunately, the recent drought has affected the speed of the river so, in reality, it was slower than canal - not what we needed at all.
We continued to go quite well to Henley, then struggled from Henley to Marlow. Roger was very tired at this point. Both rowers experience highs and lows throughout the race, but the hope is that the lows don't strike at the same time.
The Devizes to Westminster challenge is a strange race with teams stopping en route to change and refuel - their bodies not their boats! At Bisham Abbey, we were passed for the second time by an Irish team who had obviously stopped at some point for a break. As they passed us, we got caught in their wash and almost fell in which caused a giggle and that nearly made us fall in again! As we were saving ourselves, I pulled a muscle on right hand side of my ribcage. It was painful and I knew immediately that it was not an injury I would be able to shake off easily.
We kept going to Marlow Lock where we were greeted by quite a crowd - at least a few hundred people including family and friends had gathered to cheer and encourage us through the night. It was very tempting to pack up and go home - particularly as I live only 3 miles up the road but I resisted and, after an extended break to try to recover from the injury, on we went.
Bolter's Lock saw us taking another break - it was really tough by this point. We decided to attempt to get to Dorney and have a clothes change. The Maidenhead stretch wasn't too bad but once we neared Dorney, we really struggled. A total of six stops didn't help so we decided to call it a day but it was 2am so we called it a night!
It was very frustrating to have kept going for 16 and a half hours but the strain on my stomach muscles meant I couldn't support my body properly. I was slumped over which caused the additional problem of making my back sore and I don't mind telling you that the top of my butt cheeks were red raw.
We were knackered and gutted but relieved that it was at an end.
The next day, still suffering the painful after-effects, Roger and I sat down to talk about the race. Roger was adamant he would not do it again. Having attempted it twice and failed twice, he was in no mood to commit to another attempt.
It's amazing what a difference a day makes. Just 24 hours later, we decided to go back into training. This year, two overweight and under prepared rowers failed miserably but look out for us next year. We will be back.
With less than a week to go before I compete in the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race, I am starting to wonder if I am actually looking forward to this event. There have been many events recently. Sport Relief, check. My 50th birthday, check. Playing pom poms in Trafalgar Square, check. Don't ask! But throughout all events and diary commitments, I have felt the day of the race drawing closer and I am not convinced I am ready.
The training has been fun, even at 3 o'clock in the morning. Our latest outing saw my team mate, Roger Hatfield, and me kayaking from Chertsey to Teddington, which takes approximately two hours. That's a long way short of the estimated 20-22 hours we are expecting the actual race to take and considerably longer than the 5-6 minutes it took to race 2000 metres in a rowing boat. It's a distance I have no experience of, and, right now, I think I'd like it to stay that way.
I have managed to improve my fitness considerably in recent months, not to Olympic levels, but to a level I am happy with and yet I am not sure I have done enough.
I don't want to run out of steam before going the distance but it's too late to think about that now. I just have to hope that I have done enough and, thinking about it, I hope Roger has, too!
We'll know by this time next week.
It is generally accepted that the awards season's crowning glory is the Oscars, but if you're a sportsman, the Laureus World Sports Awards are the highlight of the calendar.
Having been inducted to the Laureus Board last year, I attended my first meeting last week in preparation for a night when the great and the good from the sporting world would gather in London to celebrate some amazing achievements.
The Laureus Awards are famous for rewarding the best in their field but the glamour and glitz of the evening is a world away from the hard work that goes on behind the scenes organising charitable projects across the world.
Currently, Laureus is sponsoring 91 projects in 36 countries including 10 in the United Kingdom. Glasgow, Manchester, Belfast, West Midlands and London are among the locations to benefit from the 'Sport for Good' projects that serve the communities that need it most.
Tonight, the winner of the World Sportsman of the Year Award went to Novac Djokovic, the Serbian tennis player who is competing in an arena of giants where Federer and Nadal, and more recently, Andy Murray, seem to make every match a gladiatorial battle.
Closer to home, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke were both recognised with awards reflecting their own battles on the golf course. McIlroy received the World Breakthrough of the Year Award after his victory at the US open in 2011 and the World Comeback of the Year Award went to Clarke for his remarkable, and timely, resurgence at the Open Championship.
Countdown to London 2012: A hacking good time...
28th November 2011
When asked whether or not I would help to promote a holiday destination, it was not a difficult decision, particularly when the words golf and Bermuda were mentioned.
Bermuda, despite conjuring thoughts of disappearing aircraft, boats and people in the Bermuda Triangle, has still managed to retain its reputation as a luxurious holiday destination with beautiful beaches and stunning clear waters. Our hosts, Cambridge Beaches Resort, together with British Airways, organised a day of sightseeing with a choice of minibus or moped. I chose the moped and had a great day of taking in the sights and getting a feel for this beautiful location.
But it wasn't just the island that made the decision to go a no-brainer. The Port Royal Golf Course was to be the focal point of our visit just two weeks after the course had witnessed the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, a season ending tournament held annually since 1979 featuring the winners of the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA Championship.
On the second day of our visit, our group of sports people and UK journalists followed in the footsteps of Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke as well as PGA champion, Keegan Bradley and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel. Our tournament, the Hackers Cup, was fast becoming a daunting prospect which was compounded by the discovery the course is claimed to be one of the toughest in the world.
I captained our celebrity team of Gary McAllister, Michael Lynagh, Charlotte Jackson, and Gethin Jones while the UK journalists - Minty Clinch, Philippa Kennedy and Nick Perry were captained by Peter Corrigan.
On day one of the tournament, I was paired with Charlotte against Phillippa and Peter. It pains me to confess that we lost 5-13 but it was clear that Philippa was the better player of the four of us.
Day two saw me pitched against Peter Corrigan in the singles matchplay format. This was a much better result with me winning 12-6.
Day three was a corporate fundraiser with people from islands invited to play Texas Scramble to raise money for local projects.
Overall, the celebrity team won The Hackers Cup by just four points (110 - 106) but, for me, the outstanding player throughout the tournament was Philippa Kennedy but unfortunately she ended up on the losing side - although given the location, the course, and the weather, it's difficult to see it as losing in the bigger picture.
Countdown to London 2012: And now for something different...
18th October 2011
In my latest book, Greatest Olympic Moments, Birgit Fischer is featured together with her extraordinary Olympic medal haul, which eclipses my own and almost everyone else's with a total of eight Gold medals over six Olympic Games from 1980 to 2004. Her sport of choice was kayaking which, at the time of writing the book, was a sport that I had tried but had been unceremoniously dumped from the boat within four seconds.
I don't know if Birgit's success or my failure was at the root of my recent decision to try kayaking again, but six weeks ago I was back on the water and back in a boat only this time, it was a kayak. The good news is I managed to stay in the kayak for more than four seconds.
I started my new challenge on 20th September, 2011, at the Pangbourne Marathon. I am told there were a lot of surprised expressions as I lined up for the Division 9 race, the lowest division in the competition.
Being able to see where you're going is an odd sensation but I wouldn't say it was a good one, especially when there is a four mile course ahead of you. In rowing, you know you have a long way to go but you don't have to see it and you definitely don't chose to visualise it but, in kayaking, there is no choice.
I managed to finish second, a minute behind the winner but with a time that would have earned victory over all the Division 8 competitors. For better or worse, I will not get the opportunity to turn a theoretical victory into a reality as my time saw me promoted to Division 7 for the next race.
The ultimate challenge for my new venture will be the 125 mile Devizes Westminster International Canoe Marathon. This is the longest non-stop canoe race in the world and I only have until next April to get ready. I will be competing with my old friend, Roger Hatfield, so when the Hasler Trophy races took place in Henley on 27th September, Roger and I lined up for our race, this time in Division 6.
After being cut up in the early stages of the race, we fought back to take third place. At just under a minute a half behind the winners, it wasn't a bad debut in the two portage race but watch this space, I haven't built a reputation on coming second or fourth and I am not about to break the habit of a lifetime. At least, that's not the plan.
Countdown to London 2012: The future looks bright for Team GB
5th September 2011
Since returning from the World Championships in Beld, Slovenia, I have been looking into our past results at the Olympics. Understandably, some of them are etched on my memory but I couldn't remember when the UK set the record for the most medals won in the rowing events.
It turned out that our best result was way back in 1908 at the London Olympics - we won four golds, three silvers and one bronze medal. At Beld, we won three golds, three silvers and four bronze medals in Olympic events. No one knows what the medal count will be in London 2012, but, right now, I am feeling confident.
Until this year, the World Championship has been a two day event with all our strongest events held on the first day. Historically, we have done well early on and anything we have achieved during the later events has been a bonus. It was never nerve-racking as a spectator because we generally had something in the bag by the time day two arrived.
This year, for the first time, the Championships became a four day event and the new schedule meant our weaker events came first so, by day two, the nail biting began. As we now know, there was no need to be too nervous because the team came home with 14 medals in total with 10 in Olympic events. An outstanding result.
A medal of any colour in the top competitions is a very good result but, at Beld, I felt the disappointment of the women's pair, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. Having led all the way, they were pipped at the post by just 0.08 seconds.
For me, the performance of the championships was Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase in the men's lightweight double scull. Zac has only recently returned to training after being struck down with a virus so to come back and fight for victory in such a determined fashion was amazing. It was exciting to watch as the lead changed through the race but brilliant to see them finally claim victory by well over a metre.
The future of rowing is looking good for Team GB.
Countdown to London 2012: Just the ticket?
4th August 2011
Like many thousands of families across the UK, the Redgrave clan sat down to decide which events we each wanted to see at the London 2012 Olympics. Outside of rowing, our choices included the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field, cycling, diving, beach volleyball, gymnastics and basketball and at least one of us wanted to get a glimpse of the synchronised swimming.
When applying for tickets, we assumed the lowest price seats would be over hugely subscribed and the highest prices were a little too high to justify the expenditure so we plumbed for the mid-range prices. We were cautiously optimistic.
Unfortunately, our optimism was misplaced. Diving bombed and beach volleyball was a wash out. There were to be no seats at the velodrome nor would there be any at track and field and the opening and closing ceremonies would have to proceed without the presence of my family.
We did manage to get tickets for the basketball which brought a smile to the face of my son, Zak, and the synchronised swimming will be graced by two members of the Redgrave family, much to the delight of my younger daughter, Sophie.
It wasn't the success we'd hoped for but we're not alone. With millions of people applying for thousands of seats, there is bound to be disappointment for many. It's unavoidable.
On the plus side, it seems that all the Olympic venues will be full which will create an amazing atmosphere for the competitors. That can't be bad.