FIVE-TIME Olympic champion Steve Redgrave told an intimate gathering of rowers and fans about his comedown from the highs of London 2012 at The Playhouse in Cheltenham.
The 51-year-old reminisced about his golden years, from teaching his children to walk on altitude training camps, to being diagnosed with colitis just 10 weeks before the Barcelona Olympics.
Redgrave kept the audience gripped, thanks to probing questions from well-known Gloucestershire radio presenter Ian Randall.
After winning his fourth Olympic gold in the men's pairs with Sir Matthew Pinsent, Redgrave said: "If anyone sees me anywhere near a boat again, you have my permission to shoot me."
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But just months later, he was back on the water, embarking on a campaign for his fifth gold medal in Sydney 2000.
But it was not plain sailing.
Redgrave was getting older, he was a shadow of the phenomenal athlete he once was, and he had been diagnosed with diabetes.
Redgrave, who shares his birthday with Mo Farah, Chris Hoy and Sir Roger Bannister, told of his darkest days, finishing 30 minutes behind the rest of the squad on training camps, and how he so nearly quit time after time.
The gargantuan strength of character he showed to row across the line in Sydney half a length ahead of the Italians is testament to the bloody- mindedness of one of our greatest sportsmen.
And suddenly, nothing. A sport he had done at the highest level possible for 25 years, gone.
But Redgrave explained that he felt relief. It was the easiest decision in the world.
And just three weeks later, he threw his replenished energy into the London 2012 bid.
So perhaps most striking was how the champion rower felt when the Paralympic cauldron went out, signifying the end of the glorious summer of London 2012. It was at this point that he began to grieve and feel the emptiness that should have come with retirement.
The Olympic dream had moved on, and Redgrave battled with a sense of loss for six to nine months "before normal life kicked in again".
Ever since the age of 15, the Olympics had been his life and it was now over.
Of course Redgrave will be involved in the 2016 Rio games, and he told funny – if not slightly worrying – stories of getting mugged at knife-point on Copacabana beach.
He mused on what motivates athletes, footballers' wages, the most intense sport and the view that rowing is a sport reserved solely for the social elite.
Redgrave was grounded, affable and funny, and the talk was enlightening and engaging.
And it was all for a good cause – to raise money for music project Oxjam. Laura Fell