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Sir Steve Redgrave has entered talks with US Rowing over a new coaching role which could see him pitted against Team GB athletes at the Olympics in Paris and Los Angeles.
Fresh from losing its most successful head coach ahead of a worst Olympic showing for 45 years, British Rowing is now poised to watch its greatest ever rower join a rival nation after US Rowing confirmed it is in discussions with Redgrave over a long-term role.
Redgrave, a five-time Olympic champion, was scathing of British Rowing’s approach after its athletes returned a woeful tally of just two medals - a silver in the men’s quadruple sculls and bronze in the men’s eight - from this summer’s Tokyo Games.
That pitiful performance came in the wake of head coach Jurgen Grobler’s departure, prompting Redgrave to suggest “it may be that the approach has gone a bit soft”.
A post-Olympics review led to the resignation of chief executive Andy Parkinson after six years at the helm, before performance director Brendan Purcell followed a fortnight later.
With those roles currently unfilled, Redgrave is one potential option to help shape a new future for the sport in Britain, but that now appears to be slipping away after US Rowing chief executive Amanda Kraus confirmed the organisation is in discussions with Redgrave taking on a potential long-term role.
“US Rowing is committed to pushing forward an ambitious high-performance plan for Paris 2024, LA 2028 and beyond,” she said. “A new head of high performance will be the lead architect. We have recently begun our search. We can confirm that Steve Redgrave is interested in playing a role at US Rowing and we are very pleased to be in conversation with him.”
Redgrave took on a similar position for China ahead of the Tokyo Games, where he helped them win one gold and two bronze medals - an increase on the two bronzes it won in 2016 and one silver in 2012.
Redgrave declined to comment when contacted by Telegraph Sport.
No harm done or opportunity missed; time will tell
Would Steve Redgrave want a role at British Rowing? Would he even be any good if he did take a position at the governing body?
There is every chance the answer to one, or both, of those questions is no, but it now appears likely they will go unanswered after US Rowing confirmed talks with the five-time Olympic champion over a potential position heading up the organisation’s long-term strategy.
For a governing body as rudderless as British Rowing it is a bold move to let the country’s greatest ever rower continue his path from one rival nation (China) to another (United States). Either bold or a foolish opportunity missed; time will tell.
Redgrave did not mince his words in the wake of Britain’s shambolic rowing performance at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, where he placed the blame squarely on an organisation that had paid the price for allowing former head coach Jurgen Grobler to walk away the year before the Games, following in the footsteps of ex-women’s head coach Paul Thompson.
“If you ask two of the best coaches the world has ever seen in any sport to leave, both within two years of this Olympics, then you deserve what you get,” Redgrave told Telegraph Sport immediately after the Tokyo Games.
“The athletes aren’t to blame. I think we’ve got some of the best athletes in the world, and they’ve shown that year after year. We have tremendous funding from the Lottery. We certainly have enough finance. So where does that leave us? It’s got to be the people in charge.”
Grobler, who oversaw a golden period for British rowers during Redgrave’s heyday, last month took up a role with the French Rowing Federation, while Thompson followed Redgrave in moving over to China prior to the Tokyo Games.
There is a significant portion of Britain’s rowing community that cannot believe such talent is being allowed to guide rival nations to success.
“British Rowing must be mad to let the finest coach there has ever been lead someone else into the next Olympics,” wrote James Cracknell in the Telegraph, when Grobler’s new role was confirmed.
Conversely, there are others who openly questioned the German’s ‘old-school’ approach. Men’s eight bronze medallist Josh Bugajski publicly accused Grobler of “destroying” athletes with his harsh training methods.
It is not difficult to ascertain which camp Redgrave sits in, as a downturn in results coincides with the sport’s attempts to shift its culture to a more supportive, sensitive approach.
With British Rowing currently without a chief executive and performance director, after Andy Parkinson and Brendan Purcell’s departures following a post-Olympics review, it is a time for a major reset at a governing body where everything is currently up in the air. Funding had already been reduced from the Tokyo cycle to the Paris Games, and further cuts are expected after this summer’s Olympic disappointment. With the sport trying to merge the old with the new, it is a difficult time for all involved.
What is abundantly clear is if Britain does not want Redgrave, other countries certainly do.