My Olympic Career: Where It All Started

15/08/2016 17:22 | Updated 16 August 2016
Lutz Bongarts via Getty Images

When it comes to great starts, I think of my mother Sheila because she gave me mine. I'm the youngest of three; my two sisters are nine and five years older than me, so by the time I showed some promise in rowing my parents were coming closer to retirement and had more time to focus on me. They were very supportive and gave me the flexibility to be able to train the amount I did.

I took it for granted at the time but my mother took great pride in making sure all of my kit was clean and ready to go for the next day's training. In the 70s and 80s when I was still living at home, I'd get back after the evening's training session and a meal would be ready to eat, then mum would clear my plate, tip my kit bag out and put it all through the washing machine. I was probably the only rower in the club who was wearing the same kit day in and day out, but it was always clean.

My mum has always been community minded and she started a youth club in Marlow Bottom where we live. I think my community spirit has been very much honed by her; I like trying to help others and doing my bit for charity. But while mum always helped other people she was unfailingly supportive of me, even to the extent that she taught my two sisters and me to drive, then she became a driving instructor to earn a little bit more money to keep me in international rowing.

So how did I get in to rowing? I went to a small comprehensive school, which was not really a rowing school but the head of English, a guy called Francis Smith, had two loves: rugby and rowing. He would go round and ask a few individuals if they'd like to try the sport. At the age of 13 I was strong, tall and athletic, and I couldn't think of anything better than going down to the river and messing about during school time. After two months we went to Avon County School Regatta with no expectations and we won!

We entered seven events in our first year of the junior 4's and we won all seven of them. It was a pretty good start! We started to think we were god's gift to rowing because we used to win lots of races and it gave us a taste of success. We expected to win so when we did meet the top athletes in our year group we were very competitive because we had that winning mentality. It was a great start to my rowing career. We weren't god's gift to rowing, but it gave us that healthy start.

I created a mission at the age of 16 to go to three Olympic games: Moscow in 1980 as a competitor, LA in 1984 hopefully as a medalist, and Seoul in 1988 as a gold medalist. We qualified for Moscow in a quadruple skull for the junior world championships so the focus was then on LA, which was my first Olympics. And while I was hoping I might win a medal, whatever colour, that medal was a gold. I repeated that success at Seoul, and afterwards I thought to myself do I want to go and work for a living or do I want to carry on messing about in a boat? I ended up doing another three games messing about in a boat.

Times haven't always been easy. Literally a few months before the Barcelona games in 1994 I found out that I have colitis, which is the inflammation of the intestines. There was doubt over whether I was ever going to be good enough to go to those games, but I bounced back quite quickly once I was diagnosed and was able to compete in the games. Then three years before Sydney - my last games - I came down as a diabetic, which was harder to deal with.

When things are going really well you tend to dream big, of the final race and think about crossing the line, standing on the podium and having a medal put round your neck. When things aren't going very well, I bring it down to the here and now. I have had some very dark days where it looked like I was never going to compete again, so it's about completing something as simple as a training session within that tough time.

My parents have always been there supporting me; they've followed me around the world. Even when I nearly quit in the 1980s they said, 'If that's your decision, we'll accept that'. That made me see the bigger picture and I continued to get a lot of fun out of rowing until I retired.

Sir Steve is an ambassador for Kellogg's Great Starts Olympic campaign. He's encouraging everyone to share their tips on how to get off to a Great Start each day. Visit to see everyone's tips.