The Season Of Strong Wills

Daily Mail Article

Pushing the boat out

Pinsent and Cracknell on life after Sydney

Typical Biker

Life after Sydney

Cracknell in the pink

After the gold rush

Cracknell's TV tale is set for golden ending

Sport Live interview

Gold star Cracknell celebrates

My Sport

The season of strong wills

James Cracknell's parents felt the need to issue their son with a formal invitation requesting the pleasure of his company for Christmas 2000. This year Cracknell may not have been subject to the same intense post-Sydney round of celebratory pulls away from normal life, but his family will not have had the pleasure of his company all day yesterday. He went training. "I don't have to train on Christmas Day, but I choose to just because I always have. It's become a habit," he said.

"This year I'm spending Christmas in Henley, so I'll go out on the river in a scull at about 10am for an hour-and-a-half. It won't be a gentle paddle. I like to break into a bit of a sweat. I'll be by myself - I can't see Matthew [Pinsent] training on Christmas Day - and I'll have to unlock the boathouse with my own key because there won't be anyone else around."

Like the majority of elite athletes, Cracknell feels the need to work out in some form every day. "If you are used to exercising, your body tells you that you need to do something every day. And, at Christmas, it gets you out of doing anything else, like tidying up."

Courtesy of the Daily Telegraph

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The Hunk who's taking over from Redgrave (and he's got film star looks, too)

He's a 6ft 4in colossus with muscles on his muscles. Not to mention the sort of good looks that many a Hollywood actor would die for. But despite the sighing women he leaves in his wake, James Cracknell's obsession remains messing about in boats.

The 29 year old oarsman was a member of the four-strong team who helped Steve Redgrave win his fifth Olympic gold medal at last year's Sydney Olympics. Now Redgrave has retired Cracknell is emerging as a superstar in his own right - with the fans to match. 'Women do come up and congratulate me,' he says. 'But I wouldn't say they're chatting me up.' He pauses awkwardly, then adds: 'I'm not very good at picking up signals from women, so I wouldn't necessarily realise if they were making a pass.'

Despite his apparent diffidence, Cracknell still posed for a magazine wearing nothing but an enigmatic smile. He shrugs: 'The outfits we wear for rowing are so tight they don't hide much at all, so it's not as if people have never seen my body before.'

Cracknell has now teamed up with fellow Olympian oarsman matthew Pinsent in the coxless pairs and hopes for a success in the forthcoming world championships, plus the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

It was his dedication to the sport which partly lead to the break-up of his relationship with his last girlfriend - a distressing event chronicled in the BBC video diary 'Gold Fever.' 'The pressure I was under didn't help,' he says. 'Unless you are really strong, like Steve Redgrave and his wife, you have little chance. 'Of the 12 Olympic rowers in the British team who had girlfriends at the start of last year, only three or four are with the same girl now, including Steve.'

It's not a promising statistic, yet it has not prevented Cracknell from setting up home in Henley-on-Thames with his new girlfriend, TV presenter Beverly Turner, 27. 'She is an amazing person and great fun to be with,' he says with a shy smile. 'We met before the Olympics when she interviewed me on a sports programme she was presenting. Then we did a channel 5 show together in the Jordanian desert and we kept in touch after that.'

He insists it was much more than her looks which attracted him. 'She's very easy to talk to and has a lovely sense of humour,' he says. 'We got on from the start. The difficulty now is that I train seven days a week and only get a day off every six weeks. The only time I ever have two days off is Christmas Day and Boxing day, plus three weeks off in the summer. So we can't get away at weekends, and I spend a lot of time out of the country.'

Cracknell, an accountant's son from Woking, Surrey, says he will probably retire after the next Olympics because of the lack of free time. 'I couldn't beat Steve's tally of golds even if I wanted to. I would be 44 by the time I went for my fifth, which is far too old.'

So what then? 'I'll have to get a steady job for the first time. I would like to go into sports marketing.'

Then there is always the Vinnie Jones route from sport to the movies.

'Funny you should mention that,' he says. 'The night I presented an award at the BAFTAs recently, this Australian casting agent asked me who my agent was, and looked quite disappointed when I told him I was a rower, not an actor.'

Courtesy of the Daily Mail

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Pushing the boat out: Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, his new partner in the coxless pairs, on their way to a convincing victory in the British trials in Belgium

For Matthew Pinsent, the experience was more than familiar: stroking a coxless pair towards the finish line with a good lead and enough in hand to enjoy watching a cracking race for second place.

One of those big men who never needs to act big, Pinsent once again expressed his satisfaction without a trace of boasting or denigration. Winning the Great Britain national spring trials at Hazewinkel in Belgium on Wednesday had been "quite hard, a good row and a good result".

What those on the sidelines saw was the headline future of British rowing, the boarding and embarkation of the flagship on the long voyage to Athens. Pinsent did manage to spare a passing thought for his former comrade-in-arms, Steve Redgrave. He hoped he was enjoying his skiing holiday, wondered if it was the best preparation for the Flora London Marathon and looked forward to standing near the finish to "see the agony on his face".

Present and future are Pinsent's principal concerns, and the trials confirmed that both are looking prosperous. He has made the transition back to a pairs boat with a new partner, James Cracknell; he has regained his fitness; normal service - winning - has been resumed.

But for Cracknell, in the bow seat occupied by Redgrave for two Olympiads, the experience was thrilling. In time, he may learn the old Pinsent-Redgrave routine of finishing any race except an Olympic final as if you've been killing time with a pleasant paddle, but the novelty and importance of winning his first serious race in a pair with Pinsent was too much. He punched the air in ecstasy.

"That was very important for me," Cracknell said, making no attempt to hide his emotions. "The lead-up to the race was pretty stressful. I've had to adapt to rowing on the bowside, which hasn't been easy, and we were the pair that everybody wanted to beat."

Domestic trials may not sound significant, but the coxless pairs final was of international quality, with eight Olympic gold medallists among the 12 participants, including an established pair, Ed Coode and Greg Searle, who came within a metre of the silver medal at Sydney. Winning with comparative ease in such company proved that Cracknell and Pinsent are not merely the best in Britain, but world class.

First prize, which for any oarsman in Britain apart from Pinsent is a place in Pinsent's boat, has gone to Cracknell, and he deserves it. Almost as soon as his gold medal as part of the coxless four had been placed around his neck, Cracknell was ready to seize the main chance.

Realising that Pinsent would probably revert to rowing in a pair, and that his partner would have to row on the bowside, Cracknell, who for 12 years had rowed strokeside, prepared to make the transition. To give himself time, and to make sure he was always ahead of other potential suitors, he maintained his Olympic fitness. "Everybody wants to row with Matthew, and I didn't want to be left sitting on the bank," he said.

While others combined parties with lie-ins, Cracknell combined parties with serious gym sessions. In every ergometer test conducted on the British men's squad over the winter, Cracknell came first, and, until Pinsent roused himself from hibernation, first by a huge margin. Pinsent's return to full fitness, or close to it, after three months' physical idleness, has been incredible. "At the end of December, I was 10% down on my Sydney fitness level," he said. "Now, I'm almost back where I should be."

Fellow members of the squad who give voice to their impressions describe Pinsent and Cracknell as "brutal", "animals" and "savage", and the pair were never likely to lack for power. The only imponderables were whether they could harness both the power and their personalities. Cracknell, who wears his heart on his sleeve, is quite unlike the enigmatic Redgrave, but reports from training suggest a good mix. "James is good for Matthew," said one squad member. "He winds him up when they're out in the boat, saying, 'Is that all you've got? I can pull you right round'. He's like a guy teasing a big bear with a stick."

Achieving harmony of stroke will take longer. "I've found it hard, it's difficult to balance the boat in a pair," said Cracknell. "At the moment it feels fast, but not natural. We can't really sprint in the last 250 metres because we would fall apart. If Ed and Greg had been as sharp in the trials final as they were in Sydney, we could have been in trouble. But we're learning. By the summer, we'll be very different."

As Jurgen Grobler, Great Britain's chief men's coach, made clear, Pinsent and Cracknell will constitute the lead boat in the campaign that culminates in Athens. For Coode and Searle, who needed to win the trials to prolong their partnership in the hope of putting right what went so agonisingly wrong in Sydney, defeat, and relegation to third place, was painful but not unexpected. "We were out-trained and outraced by two pairs who were more on the case than we were," said Searle.

Along with Tim Foster, presently recovering from a knee injury, Coode and Searle will go into the blender from which Grobler must produce an eight and a coxless four, both ultimately to defend Olympic titles in 2004. Grobler, who will probably make the eight the next priority after the pair, has enough high-class athletes from which to choose.

British rowing rides a winning wave; but, as ever, the chief enemy is complacency.

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Pinsent and Cracknell on life after Sydney

Trials coxless pair winners Pinsent and Cracknell talk about life after Sydney, racing together in the pair at Trials and the season ahead.

JC: "We started in the pair in mid-January after the Lanzarote training camp. It's a challenge rowing bow side after twelve years on stroke side. I was in good shape when I started. Jurgen has guided me through."

MP on fitness: "I was tested at the end of December and I was 10 % down on Sydney. I lost about 1% per week. By the end of January I was 3 or 4% down. I got back about 2% per week. I'm not back to where I was in Sydney but I'm within 1% of where I was this time last year."

JC on rowing in the pair with Matthew: "Having spent four years together in the four, we move very naturally. Our aim is to win here and to put ourselves in the best position for the top boat, whatever that might be. We trust Jurgen."

MP: "We're trying not to get ahead of ourselves. We're used to concentrating on the race and ignoring what happens afterwards. We're putting our cards down in front of the selectors and saying this is how good we are."

JC: "Yesterday was our first 2k race. Today was our first standing start. These are all new little markers. Whatever boat we're in, we'll go to Princeton in two weeks time."

MP on which boat that might be: "I'd be very surprised if Jurgen asks us what we think! I'd be happy to contribute if he does. He'd hate to put his athletes in a position they don't want to be in. Essentially, he knows we'd be happy in a pair or a four. He's got 14 seats to sort out. We don't talk about it. We joke about it."

JC: "We've been the best on land and on water and we trust Jurgen. We wouldn't argue with him about where he'd put us."

MP: "We've tried to prepare for Trials and not have a favourite scenario. Whatever happens, I want to think great, good decision, this is what I want to do. There's still Tim in the mix and he's not here. At full fitness, he'd fit in between us and the other guys."

JC: "The gaps were there last year. There are two Olympic champions not racing here (Redgrave and Foster) who were very good in pairs. Greg and Ed are not rowing as well as they did last year."

MP on rowing without Redgrave: "There's very little change. Different music in the room and different sleeping habits! If I'd gone from the pair with Steve to the pair with James, it would have been a big jump. This doesn't feel like a big change from last year. We've inherited so much from how we ran our competitive life in the four."

Courtesy of The ARA

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Typical Biker

Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell takes to his Yamaha R1 for some instant release. Rowing and motorcycling are opposites, says the 28 year old, who won the coveted gong at Sydney last year as part of the British Heavyweight Coxless Four team. 'My sport is relaxing, while getting on a race replica is a no-effort way of going fast. Biking is my means of getting away from it all.'

James, who trains seven days a week, is a qualified geography teacher, has an Msc in sports science and is currently studying for a law degree. 'I don't have much spare time, so it's a matter of having a quick burst when I want some fun,' he says. 'However, I ride virtually every day in London, although in truth I'm a bit of a fair-weather rider. I love going out into the Chilterns during the summer and I've ridden some nice roads in Cornwall, but I'm keen to go touring in Austria to tackle some of those mountain passes.'

James, who won his first gold medal at the Junior World Championships in France in 1990, and who was part of the rowing squad that broke the 100,000 - metre indoor rowing record this year, started motorcycling in 1992. 'I'd left home and had no parental influence,' he explains. 'I'd always wanted a bike because I'd watched motorcycle racing on telly and enjoyed the buzz. My first machine was a Honda XR125, which a mate taught me to ride. Once I'd passed my test I bought a Yamaha FZR 600, then I progressed to an FZR1000 a couple of years later. Unfortunately, I wiped it out when I hit some ice on a roundabout, so then I got a Suzuki GSX-R1100 Streetfighter.

'Now I have the R1, which is pretty special. In fact it's awesome, It's well balanced and gives me a lot of confidence. I love the way it handles, the way I can throw it around bends - and its massive acceleration. It's certainly the best Japanese sports bike and is more than enough for me.'

Courtesy of the Daily Telegraph

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Olympic gold medallist rower James Cracknell talks about life after Sydney

'Regulars at the trendy Bar Italia cafe in London's Soho are used to seeing the odd pop star of film maker sipping a latte. But when James Cracknell roars up on his newly acquired Yamaha R1 motorbike, even the coolest customer can't help but stare at this athletic, leather - clad 6ft 5in giant.

Since his gold medal success with the 'Oarsome Foursome' in Sydney, James has been turning plenty of heads. Steve Redgrave may have won Sports Personality of the Year and become Sir Steve, but it's James who has the media in a tizz.

With his good looks - and high - profile romance with TV sports presenter Bev Turner - James has become a regular item in the gossip columns and a paparazzi favourite.

Not that the 28-year-old seems too bothered by all the attention. 'It's nice to be famous for doing something which people enjoyed,' he says. 'Everyone has been very positive, coming up to me and shaking my hand. The only hard part is keeping a smile constantly on your face.'

So how does he feel about being viewed as a sex symbol? 'I've not really noticed it to be honest,' he shrugs. 'It doesn't really bother me. All that matters is that people aren't saying horrible things about me. My life is good.'

James deserves the praise. Since taking up rowing at the age of 14 (when he named his pet goldfish Steve after Steve Redgrave) he's put thousands of hours training for the top.

Like Wimbledon, the football team he supports ('I like their ability to upset the giants,' he explains), James has always been a maverick. So as a public schoolboy in Kingston, he set his sights on winning Olympic gold - a dream he finally fulfilled at Sydney 2000.

Even now, five months, five months after the coxless fours kept millions of late-night TV viewers on the edge of their seats when they snatched gold by 0.38 of a second, James still gets a buzz when he thinks back to the performance.

'There certainly hasn't been a comedown yet,' he grins. 'At the time it was all a bit of a blur. The night before we had a long conversation about why we were there and why it was our race to win. On the day itself we were up at 4.30 AM, had breakfast, travelled an hour on the bus, and then went through our warm-up routine. When we won, I just wanted to get my medal. I didn't feel particularly exausted after the race, just on a real high.'

Victory was made even sweeter by the fact that James had missed out on the two previous Olympics. Weeks before the Barcelona games in 1992, he injured a shoulder playing rugby, while four years later in Atlanta, he was sidelined with tonsilitis.

Before Sydney, however, James wasn't taking any chances and didn't ride his motorbike for 12 months. But now he's got one gold medal to his name, what are his chances of emulating Steve Redgrave and winning another four? 'I would be 40 - I don't think so. But I do plan to compete in Athens in 2004,' he reveals. 'After that, who knows? The training is tough - we get one day off every six eeks. I'd find it difficult to have no life. Also, rowing doesn't pay that well. In a year, we'll get Lottery funding, which is probably one third of Roy Keane's weekly wage. Long-term, I'm thinking about sports marketing, law or journalism.'

Whatever he decides, you can bet you'll hear a lot more about James - both in and out of the rowing boat.'

(Courtesy of T2, 10/02/01)

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Cracknell in the pink

James Cracknell, bow man in the British Olympic gold medal coxless four, was the first man to pat Steve Redgrave on the back before Matthew Pinsent climbed down the boat to hug his long time partner. Cracknell now finds himself in another hot seat when he took ove as the new captain of the prestigious Leander club on January 1. 'Five years ago I would never have dreamt of such a thing,' says former Kingston Grammar schoolboy junior gold medallist. 'Things have changed, though, and I want to try and close the gap between the young recruits in the club and the star performers.'

Cracknell admits that Ivor Lloyd, an international in 1977 and Leander club captain for the past fifteen years, has done a fantastic job for the club. Lloyd will continue as the club's director of rowing, necessary perhaps since Cracknell has his sights set on Athens and nobody seems to remember the last time that Leander had an active international rowing captain.

'I want more interaction between the atheletes and the organisation.' Cracknell says. 'My job will be to see that this happens. Ten years ago, when I joined the club, Steve helped me on. Eventually I helped him to win his fifth Olympic gold medal.' at 28, Cracknell, with one olympic gold, is looking for someone who could help him win a fifth, although he admits, 'I might have to double up in two events at one Olympics to do it.' He perhaps forgets the Redgrave 'doubled' once, in Seoul, and 'only' won gold and bronze.

Cracknell inends to look seriously at the grass roots as far as Leander is concerned. 'We need a strong base and new talent to fill the gap in the middle.' He sees Mark Banks, Leander's new coach just appointed from him previous role as the ARA'a chief junior coach, as a vital link here. 'Previously we have had no ladders to pull people up. Mark, with his former junior expertise, will help in this.'

He is keen to see Leander functioning more fully at Henley Royal Regatta. He believes that the stewards must be persuaded to allow newer Leander members to compete in the lesser events at the regatta, something which their 'centre of excellence' tag has prevented in recent years. 'Personnel, rather than the club, must be taken into account.' With Matthew Pinsent joining Steve Redgrave as a Steward this year, Cracknell is hoping for their support. 'We are beginning to rack them up...and I am still waiting for the call.'

Cracknell, who took only three weeks off after Sydney before returning to training at Leander, has susequently won the British indoor title and the early national sculling trials in Boston, Lincolnshire. He took a post Christmas holiday in Spain with his girlfriend, Beverly Turner, before 'the rest of the lads came out and spoilt it.' The rest of the lads are the national squad appearing for the January training camp. At the time of writing both Pinsent and Foster were uncertain of their future. So which boat will Cracknell be rowing in at the Athens Olympics? 'It will be difficult to slip someone into the four for Steve.' What about the eight? 'There are too many people in it and I don't like being steered by a cox.' The decision, of course, will be made by chief coach Jurgen Grobler.

Courtesy of Regatta Magazine

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After the Gold Rush

James Cracknell received a gilt-edged card in the post recently. 'Dear James,' it said. 'You are cordially invited to celebrate the coming of Christmas with Jennie and John at their home.' Only Jennie and John was crossed out, replaced by 'love Mum and Dad.'

It is something when your own parents have to scythe throught the gold medal after-life with a formal invitation, but such is the world when your celebrity goes platinum. 'It is a life-changing experience' said Tim Foster. 'In nice ways, so far.'

Cracknell has done a game show in Jordan, guest starred at an estate agents' award night in Blackpool, made the gossip columns with a new girlfriend from FHM's top 100 women, modelled outfits for 'The clothes show', was made captain of Leander Rowing club, received a Yamaha motorbike, won the indoor rowing championships ('Beating the Italian by more than 0.4 sec, so it wasn't me that was slow in Sydney!') and RSVP-ed his mum and dad.

The Italians, had they won, would have been given 30,000 a man, a flat and 600 a month for ife. (It begins to explain theirlung-rasping finish). The Russians were on a six figure bonus for gold and the Germans could have expected a lavish all-expenses paid holiday. 'It would have been a nightmare getting on that beach,' Cracknell mused, 'All those towels!'

Cracknell may postpone a law degree to row towards Athens. 'It's not as easy as just putting one man in to make a new four. We may want a different challenge.' Cracknell said. 'Effectively we could be competing against eachother, ' Foster said. 'Me for a place in a pair with Matt. Or a pair with James. Or Matt with me. Or...'

A new order. A new crusade. The story continues.

Courtesy of the Daily Telegraph

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Cracknell's TV tale is set for golden ending, by Clare Balding in Sydney.

"Steve and Matt have arrived in Australia with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of commitment. Steve and Matt - you know the ones. The indestructible, ageing Olympic legend who looks a bit grumpy and doesn't say much and the rosy-cheeked tall bloke who can talk for Henley and is growing into the world's greatest oarsman.

If you were watching BBC TV's Gold Fever for three weeks, you may also know a little about the other two fellas who will try to help Redgrave and Pinsent create history. If not, let me fill you in:

Tim Foster is a tall (obviously), long-haired (not so obvious) languid individual who has a back as fragile as an autumn leaf. He smiles a lot and seems to endure pain with a hint of masochism. His back was so bad that he was forced to have an operation that nearly lost him his place in the boat to the impossibly posh Ed Coode and he only found out at the start of this year that he was definitely back in the A team.

James Cracknell's hair colour changed with almost every shot of Gold Fever as he tried orange, blond, pink and black. At the fancy dress party for Redgrave's 38th birthday, he was the only one who looked less wacky with a wig on. If Redgrave and Pinsent are two halves of the same vitamin-packed health bar, Cracknell and Foster happily ease back into the same sofa of chill comradeship.

Cracknell is trendy, cool, outspoken and surprisingly emotional. In a world where men normally hide their feelings under the bulk of muscle, Cracknell produced the surprise of the series as he visibly fell apart on camera when he and his girlfriend Emily split up. He agonised over the choice between commitment to Emily and commitment to his three teammates. His training suffered, he lost weight, he confessed to being lonely, desperate and heart broken and every woman in the land wanted to reach out to comfort him (well, you know how it is).

Before he flew off to Sydney, I thought I'd do my bit and offer solace of a kind. I met him on a beautifully sunny morning on the banks of the Thames in Henley and we chatted (honest, that's all).

The good news is he is happy and fully focused on the important things in his life. Even better news (for him, if not for the ever-hopeful female population) is he is back with Emily, who will fly out to be with him in Sydney.

Cracknell is now in full training on the Gold Coast and making regular contributions to the team's web-site ( So far everything is as it should be, when you are two weeks away from the greatest sporting moment of your life. However, the preparation has not been smooth. A miserable fourth place in the final of the World Cup Regatta in Lucerne raised doubts in the minds of all observers and gave hope to the opposing crews who will be taking them on at Penrith Lakes. I wrote in Standard Sport that I was starting to think that what had seemed the one certainty of the Games was now far from it.

"We're very close and we are a sort of family," said Cracknell. "When people said after Lucerne that Steve was getting too old, that hurt us as much as it hurt him.

"If people insult one of us, they insult all of us. That's what makes rowing a great sport - it's about real teamwork, even if you don't talk much during the actual race."

But hang on, what happened in Lucerne? How could a crew go from being invincible (they had never been beaten in the combination of Matthew, Steve, James and Tim) to being also-rans?

Cracknell admits: "We had wanted to remain unbeaten as that four, so that was a hard thing to accept but to get beaten by that much is probably easier to take than being beaten in a very close race and just losing. Having performed that badly, something was clearly wrong. "It's definitely given us the motivation we need over the next few weeks to bring us back to better than we've been before." Use the negative as a positive; keep the fear of failure hanging over you rather than falling in love with the glamour of success.

That has been Redgrave's recipe for the past 20 years and you can see how it works on his team-mates. And they are fully focused on their Olympic challenge which climaxes with the coxless four final on 23 September (Saturday morning in Sydney, Friday evening at around midnight in London).

"Coming off the plane with a silver medal would be an absolute disaster," he said. "We will do anything to get gold, so we'll either get it or miss by a long way.

"We know if we row our best, we will win, and that gives us immense confidence.

"Now the challenge is to do our best and I think that is sometimes what British sportsmen fail at, not doing their best on the day.

"Steve and Matthew have shown that over the years - that's what they do and now it's up to all four of us to do our best on the day."

For once in British sport we can confidently say: Their best will be good enough."

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Are you assured of a place in the coxless four at the Sydney Olympics?

I feel I am now after winning an important race with Tim Foster last month. It was an internal trial for the British team in Boston, Lincolnshire, and we finished ahead of the other contenders to join Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent in the No1 ranked boat. I was slightly apprehensive before the race because if we'd have lost, it wouldn't have looked good for either of us. But fortunately we pulled through. We raced as a four with Steve and Matthew a fortnight ago in Seville and I think the educated money is now on that quartet.

What does a typical day's training for Sydney entail?

It begins with doing 20 kilometres on the water, which takes just over 90 minutes. Then we hit the rowing machine for half-an-hour before doing another 90 minutes in the weight room. We finish with a further 90 minutes on the water. Our training is consistently hard so we are always tired rather than having hot and cold days. But we do get a day off every six weeks, so it's not too bad.

How do you assess your chances for Sydney?

If we row to our full potential then nobody will beat us simply because we have so much strength on board. We are also fortunate in that we are consistently able to get ourselves out of trouble. We had a close race last year against the Norwegians but I never thought we were going to lose. We had that extra reserve of speed which is so important. But, of course, if we are not at our best then someone will beat us.

Does the public's perception of you as a second fiddle to Redgrave and Pinsent ever irk you?

Not at all. The only public perception which annoys me is that we are going to win at a canter in Sydney. If we do win, it will be the result of years of hard work, hours of endeavour going into every stroke. It would be nice if people realised what we went through.

Who do you see as your main rivals?

Everyone views the Australians as the crew to beat. Their rowers are really famous, more so than Steve and Matthew are in this country. To beat them in the Olympic Games in front of their own supporters would be pretty special. It seems that Redgrave will go on rowing forever.

How much longer do you intend to keep going?

I really can't say until I cross the finishing line at the Olympics. Sometimes I think I'd like to stop and try something different. Rowing's hard work and I don't particularly enjoy the training, probably because I'm quite lazy. I enjoy competing, but we only race five times a year. I wouldn't mind playing a game like rugby, where I could compete more regularly. I played while I was at university and reckon I'd be quite good at it. But something must happen when you cross that finishing line, something that makes people like Steve want to carry on. He's got nothing to prove, yet he is putting himself through it all once again.

How do you appraise the coverage afforded to rowing?

It's much better now than it was, and winning Britain's only gold medal in Atlanta did the sport a huge favour. It's still a minority sport, but compared to swimming, canoeing or cycling I think we do pretty well.

Would you like to see any changes to the image of rowing?

Yes, I'd like people in this country to regard it as a tough and athletic sport, as it is across Europe, rather than just an upper-class boat race.

How do you relax away from the water?

I used to ride my motorbike, but I'm not allowed to this year. I wouldn't be very popular with the other lads if I fell off and broke my leg. We've all had to cut out unnecessary risks, which is a bit of a hardship, but I'll be back riding it in October. As it is, I'm just trying to keep myself out of trouble.

Are you superstitious?

I sometimes think I ought to be as I've missed the last two Olympics through ill fortune. I broke my shoulder playing rugby before the Barcelona Games and contracted tonsillitis on the day of the opening ceremony in Atlanta. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Sydney.

Who would you most like to have a one-to-one with?

My granddad, who died the day after I was born.

(Interview by David Hytner, 11/3/2000, Courtesy of Sport Live )

The British world rowing champion has a mission - to win gold with Steve Redgrave Matthew Pinsent and Tim Foster at the Sydney Olympics.

But he also longs for the day when he can get up late, go surfing and tuck into a barbecue.

Do you wish rowing was on the back pages as often as football?

There aren't enough back pages to go round for everyone to be on them all the time. For a minority sport rowing is doing pretty well, off the back of the Atlanta Olympics with Steve [Redgrave] and Matthew [Pinsent] winning and being Britain's only gold medallists.

How do you see the sport in the immediate future?

I think the whole profile of rowing will rise in the next year-and-a-half with Steve going for his fifth gold medal, and that will bring attention not just to our four, but all the boats who are challenging for medals as well. The women crew won at the World Championships for the first time and also deserve a lot of publicity. So I hope there will be enough stories on Steve for it to filter down to other crews as well.

What is it like to be a team-mate of the legendary Redgrave?

He's good to train with and the way he raises himself for big occasions is really impressive. He's definitely instilled into us the fact the World Championship is very much a marker on the way to the Olympics rather than "That's it, we're there, we've done it".

When were you most satisfied with a race?

Probably the best one was when we raced the Olympic champions at Henley, having lost earlier in the season. That was pretty nice to win, and in front of a massive crowd as well.

At Henley it feels more like rowing in a stadium: normally you're rowing a 2000-metre course there's nobody until the last 250m, whereas at Henley there are people right from the start. There's a special atmosphere and it was the first time I'd experienced it.

And what has been your lowest point?

Getting ill on the day of the Olympic opening ceremony in Atlanta and not being able to race was pretty bad. But then I guess that made me stronger for the next year to make sure I got into the four.

Do you play other sports?

I played rugby at university and I like surfing if we get time to do it, but unfortunately we don't get that much. I recently did the London Triathlon and really enjoyed it - I can see myself doing that when I've finished rowing.

It involved a 1500m swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run, which is a bit far really, but there was a friendly atmosphere among the competitors. I had a good cycle and a good run, but it was so foggy in the morning I got a bit lost and swam an extra lap more than I was supposed to!

How do you relax?

I ride my motorbike occasionally, watch a bit of telly, play a bit of PlayStation - at the moment I'm into Time Crisis, which saw me through training camp. It can while away the hours very quickly, but it gives you sore eyes.

If your house was burning down, what would be the first thing you'd save?

My girlfriend. If I took the PlayStation and left her in there ...!

What book are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading a few. Homer's The Iliad because I didn't read it at school, even when I was told to, and I thought I should, although it's hard going and not too great actually. How The Stockmarkets Work, which is interesting. And a Richard Branson biography, which is pretty good and has tips on how to make money.

Who were your childhood sporting heroes?

I was into quite a few sports but I never really had that many heroes. I would have said Miguel Indurain, but then all the drugs in the Tour de France this year have just put me off him. It's pretty rife in the sport.

What football team do you support?

Wimbledon. I was born in Sutton and went to school in Kingston where they were the local team at that time. The highlight has to be beating Liverpool in the 1988 Cup final.

What is your favourite film?

I thought Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was the best film I've seen in the cinema for ages. I watch Point Break quite a lot and I think The Outlaw Josey Wales is also a good film.

If you could change one thing about rowing, what would it be?

The last time I was asked this question I said take lightweights out of the Olympics, and it got printed in the paper just before the World Championships when all of us in the team were in one hotel! So I can't say that again, though it's the big one that I would change.

What's your idea of a perfect day?

Not getting up too early is a good start. Nice and hot, a ride on a motorbike down to the beach, do a bit of surfing and then have a barbecue afterwards. It sounds idyllic: maybe I should go and be an Australian rower - that's all they do!

What would be your desert island disc?

Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's the one I listen to most since I bought it.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

Me. I'd definitely say I was self-motivated.

(David Smith,10/10/98, Courtesy of Sport live)

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Gold star Cracknell celebrates

Britain's coxless four hero James Cracknell speaks exclusively tells of his emotions after winning gold. James Cracknell knew it would be amazing but he had to admit that clinching Olympic gold had surpassed his wildest dreams. Cracknell, who teamed up with Steve Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent and Tim Foster to win the coxless fours, said the realistaion of what he had achieved was only just dawning on him. "All the spectators have gone now and just thinking back on it all feels really good," he said.

Pretty special

"I've achieved what I set out to do when I started rowing 12 years ago, so it feels pretty special - particularly with the people I had alongside me. "The sense of occasion hits you when you see how many press are out here and you've got Princess Anne giving the medals and Juan Antonio Samaranch coming over as well. "I have been fortunate enough to win a gold medal and with so many millions of people watching back home it was great just to be a part of it. "Looking back to before the race, I wasn't nervous as such. I've been waiting for this for so long now and Friday was a horrible day... we just wanted to get on with the final.


"It has all been really emotional and a couple of us were in tears last night at the team meeting. "We so much wanted to win and we believed no-one should be able to take it away from us. "Steve was telling us some of the things he's been going through over the last four years with his illness and when you've got a guy like that speaking to you it's pretty motivational. "To me, he's just Steve and he's one of the crew, but it's only over the last two weeks I've realised how much he means to people. "Coming out here and walking around the village with him you see almost every member of the British team coming up to him and wanting his autograph. "I felt bad in a way because here they were out here competing as well and I didn't know what events they were in.


"People sometimes ask me if I ever get jealous of the attention Steve gets but I don't at all... I think he's fantastic. "You can't be jealous of a man like that. You just admire him and be glad that you are there with him instead of someone else. "For me, this was my first Olympics and I know I'm really lucky to have won a gold medal. "During the race itself we were very aware that the Italians were closing the gap towards the finish. "In previous races we've been going off quick but then had people closing us down before halfway, so we made sure that didn't happen today. "I knew we would win but it was getting tight at the end and I don't think Steve realised just how much otherwise he would have called for another lift. "We didn't row our full race plan, but it was the best we have done over the first 1,500m this season and that's all you can ask for on a day when you have to produce your best. "There were so many British people out here in the stands and their reaction astounded us all. "It made us really proud to row over to the fans at the end, even though the officials said we weren't supposed to. "I haven't really thought about what happens after Sydney. I can't imagine Athens being like this in four years' time.

Amazing Olympics

"It's been an amazing Olympics and an amazing year to do it in, so you can see why Steve has carried on for so long. "My only firm plan is to start law school when I get home - I haven't even decided where I will celebrate winning! "We may not even party together. Although we are all one crew we are four very different people. "I'm sure I'll be with Tim but Steve will probably be with his family and Matt might go out with some of his friends. "What we have shared today means we don't have to celebrate together tonight. "I'm sure we will all meet up when we get home but for now we'll be with the people who have flown out here to support us."

Cracknell accepted the logic. "It means that winning will be so much sweeter. I've really enjoyed it these last eight weeks. Tracking someone down rather than being hunted ourselves." The Italians will not be encouraged to see themselves cast in the light of prey. "Hopefully, we'll demolish them, athlete to athlete. I'm looking forward to inflicting that on them." None of them is thinking about the historical perspective. We might on their behalf but the team have one vision: to win. "I don't care if Steve wins five gold medals," said Cracknell. "It's my first gold medal. That's the only way I think." He was so upset the break-up began to affect his performance on the river, but after winning the gold Cracknell said the pair have rekindled their relationship and will consider marriage. He said: "It was rowing that brought us together, but also rowing which almost split us apart. But being separated made me realise just how much I love her. She is the woman for me." Cracknell had one small formality to dispense with. Miss Haslov's father is Bjorn Haslov who won Olympic gold in the coxless fours in Mexico in 1964. Cracknell added: "We have spoken. I told him I should be an acceptable son-in-law now I have a gold medal too."

Courtesy of BBC sport online

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My Sport: James Cracknell

FIRST sporting memory: I can vaguely remember Duncan Goodhew and Daley Thompson winning at the Moscow Olympics. My earliest sporting recollection is playing in my school football team at the age of eight. I was terrible. I remember being substituted and one of the boy's dads, who ran the team, shouting at me. It struck me as really odd that it was taken so seriously.

Sports played: Football, hockey, swimming, and rugby for one year at Reading University. We didn't play rugby at Kingston Grammar because there had been a death in a match in the Fifties and so the school stopped playing it. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury in a friendly match when I was at university kept me out of Barcelona. I took up rowing at the age of 14 but started getting quite a lot better at 16. Then I went to the Junior World Championships at 17 and 18 and won in my last year at school in the coxless four.

Sports watched: The one rule I have is that I don't watch sport which is judged. In football, I'm a Wimbledon fan. I like their maverick ability to upset other teams. But being at Selhurst Park doesn't help the Dons' cause.

Why did you decide on a life in sport: It just crept up on me, really. But I always try to keep my education ticking over. I missed the Atlanta Olympics because I had tonsilitis. Then I took six months to see if I could get in the four when it was announced and ended up being successful in it. I'm taking an MSc in Sport Science at the moment just to make sure my brain doesn't stagnate.

Sporting heroes: None when I was growing up, but when I was 14 my goldfish were called Steve [Redgrave] and Andy [Holmes], after their Olympic win. Steve actually coached me as a junior. I admire plenty of people in sport and I would have said prior to this year's Tour de France that it was Miguel Indurain, but the events this year have taken the gloss off things.

Most memorable sporting moment: Probably being told I was in the four after spending a winter preparing alone for the physical tests.

Worst sporting moment: Getting told I couldn't race in the heats in Atlanta because I had tonsilitis.

Favourite sporting location: Aiguebellette, near Lyons, in France. It's where I won both my junior and senior gold medals at the World Championships.

How do you relax: Riding my motorbike.

Question most often asked: "What's it like to race with Steve and Matthew?"

. . . and the answer?: It's good, and different this year to last. Last year I wanted to beat them at everything in all the tests we do, and I was fairly successful in doing that in a lot of them. This year, I don't have to prove myself to them any more. You know that if you're up there with them, you are up there with the best in the world. Put it this way: I thought I was doing everything I could before I joined the four. I now realise I wasn't. It's another level.

Sporting event you would pay the most to see: The 1972 Olympic basketball final between Russia and America. The buzzer went and the Americans thought they had won, but there was still a second left on the clock. The Russians forced a basket and ran out winners. It would have been quite funny to have been there to see America lose to Russia - in amongst all those great big hairstyles.

. . . and to miss: Ballroom dancing.

How do you think rowing is covered in the media: Rowing has done pretty well since Atlanta, Steve and Matthew being the only gold medal. But it does need a lot more coverage. The foursome has done quite well, and hopefully it will get better and better as we move towards 2000.

Are you happy with your own treatment in the media:I haven't had any bad experiences. It's quite interesting being written about.

Interview by Gareth A Davies.

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