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Olympic rowing legend Sir Steve Redgrave believes that the venue chosen for his sport at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be “very special” for competitors and spectators.
The Great Briton, who won gold medals at five successive Games between 1984 and 2000, visited Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas - which will also host the canoe sprint events - on Saturday and gave a lesson to some young Brazilian rowers.
Afterwards, he spoke excitedly about the venue, saying: “It’s a marvellous setting, it’s absolutely stunning. “In our sport normally we compete outside the city – we never get to compete in the heart of a city, but here in Rio we have got that chance. We will be very much in the middle of it, with the Jesus Christ statue looking over the rowers. It will be very, very special from a rower’s point of view, and I’m sure it will be special for the spectators too.”
Redgrave, 50, is in Rio de Janeiro for the Laureus World Sports Awards – known as as ‘the Oscars of sport’ – which will take place at the city’s Theatro Municipal on Monday. The event is being held in Rio in 2013 and 2014 in recognition of the city’s prominence in world sport as it prepares to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Redgrave is a member of the Laureus Academy, an elite group of sporting legends who select the award winners each year. And he is certain that the Rio Games will be spectacular.
“Rio will offer a great party atmosphere, with lots of excitement,” he said. “We all know about the carnival here and that aspect of Brazilian culture. But also it’s the first time the Olympics have been to South America, and that will be great, and I think Rio will do a fantastic job.
“People say London was the best there has ever been and Rio has a very tough act to follow, but I am sure Rio will do it their way. It will be very special, but in a different way to how London was special. That’s the beauty of the Games – it’s not just about putting on a great sporting event, it’s about living the culture too.”
Redgrave was moved by the reception he received at Botafogo Rowing Club, where he coached young rowers both on land and out on the water.
“I’ve done lots of different things over the years but I have never come to a club and been so widely recognised,” he said. “It’s a really great atmosphere and I want to thank the club for looking after me so well and giving me the opportunity to go out rowing again. It was nice to be out on the Olympic course – there are not many Olympic courses I have rowed on and not won, so maybe I will make a comeback in three years’ time!”
Despite that joke, Redgrave stressed that he would be staying on dry land during the Olympic Games. “I’d love to think I could compete, but I turned 50 last year! Now I am happy being on the banks watching everyone else doing it. I get to enjoy it a little bit more and don’t have to put my neck on the line, with people trying to take away my titles.”
Redgrave also predicted that the Games would boost the sport of rowing in Brazil. “Brazil has traditionally been the strongest in South America and their standard will get higher because of the Games,” he said. “Rowing is very much in the culture in Brazil, as you see with how the rowing clubs are attached to other sports. Flamengo football club are world famous and they have the rowing blades on their crest! No other country in the world has rowing blades on football shirts. It’s very special.
“We have seen today that there are some very good rowers here, but they need more, because you need a very wide base to get one or two to the top of the pyramid. Brazil has performed very well with the number of athletes they have, but they need more athletes rowing on a day-to-day basis in good local competitions, aiming to hopefully produce some Olympic champions.”