Sir Steve Redgrave named greatest sportsman at SJA British Sports Awards 2020

It was a great night at the British Sports Awards with recognition for rowing legend, Sir Steve Redgrave and current GB rower, Polly Swann

Rowing was in the spotlight at last night’s British Sports Awards when members of the Sports Journalists’ Association (SJA) voted Sir Steve Redgrave the greatest sportsman since the awards first began 71 years ago. Polly Swann also shared the Spirit of Sport award with Kim Daybell and Vicky Wright – all three athletes put their sporting ambitions on hold to serve on the NHS frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sir Steve is the most successful male rower in Olympic history with five gold medals from different Olympic Games and one Olympic bronze. Talking to host Jim Rosenthal over Zoom at last night’s ceremony, Redgrave shared his memories including how he overcame Type 2 diabetes and ulcerative colitis – making his achievement all the more extraordinary.

Afterwards, he commented on Twitter: “It is always humbling when you find out people have voted for you, never more so than when the competition is so fierce. Thank you to everyone who voted, whether it was for me or otherwise, and a special thanks to those who voted for me, esp grateful.”

His glittering career began with Olympic gold in the men’s four back in 1984. Crew-mate Martin Cross said: “I’m thrilled that Steve’s iconic contribution to British sport has been recognised by the SJA.

“His life – both in and out of sport – has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to millions around the world. I’m proud to know him.”

A second Olympic gold followed in 1988 with the late Andy Holmes then Redgrave began his famous partnership with Sir Matthew Pinsent, winning Olympic golds in the pair in 1992 and 1996. Both moved to the four, together with Tim Foster and James Cracknell, to win gold at the 2000 Games in Sydney – and an incredible fifth Olympic gold medal for Redgrave.

Earlier today, Pinsent paid tribute, saying: “Steve was the driving force behind the men’s team in the 1980s and ’90s, setting standards of professionalism and determination that was new ground for a sport and a group that was amateur.

“It was obvious the results that he and his crews got was a direct result of the hard work that he [put in] but it paved the way for much of what was to follow. He was in every way ahead of his time and I still think that his example is relevant today – fully two decades after he retired from the sport.

“He was in every way inspirational in both word and action.”

Last night’s SJA awards also included recognition for Polly Swann who won a silver medal in the eight at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games before graduating as a doctor in 2019. Earlier this year, Swann combined training with the GB Rowing Team in lockdown to help out as as an interim foundation year doctor at a hospital near her home in Scotland. Speaking back in April, she said: “A lot of junior doctors have been moved to the most critical parts of the NHS so interim foundation year doctors are backfilling their roles. I’m definitely not a frontline ICU worker but I’m glad I can still help to ease the burden in some way.”

Andy Parkinson, CEO at British Rowing, said: “Sir Steve Redgrave’s incredible feats at the Olympics are obviously well known but today his legacy for British Rowing goes beyond just those five gold medals.

“Sir Steve and his crew-mates created a buzz and excitement about rowing which led to many people of all ages taking up the sport and some even going on to become Olympians in their own right. We are delighted to see Sir Steve, a true legend of our sport, recognised in this way.”

Sponsored by the National Lottery, the British Sports Awards are normally a gala occasion held in central London, but this year the evening took place as a virtual ceremony.

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