Top 3 English Rowers of All Time

The sport of rowing has a long and storied history in England, producing some of the world’s finest athletes who have left an indelible mark on the sport. These individuals, through their strength, determination, and sheer talent, have not only won numerous accolades but also inspired generations of future rowers. In this article, we will spotlight the top three English rowers of all time.

Their exceptional achievements, enduring legacies, and contributions to rowing make them stand head and shoulders above the rest. Join us as we delve into the remarkable careers of these sporting icons.

English rowers
Plaque on statue of Sir Steve Redgrave, Marlow, Buckinghamshire by Christine Matthews is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

1. Sir Steve Redgrave

This is an obvious choice when it comes to English rowers. It has to be Sir Steve Redgrave. The greatest English rower of all. In 2000 at the Sydney Olympics Steve ended his rowing career at the very top. He won his 5th consecutive Omypic gold medal. An extraordinary achievement. From 1984 to 2000 Sir Steve won a gold medal at each games.

In 1984 he won gold in the Coxed Fours event in Los Angeles. This was followed by gold with his partner Andrey Holmes in the Coxless Pairs in Seoul in 1988. Matthew Pinsent, who would come to be as famous as Sir Steve, was his partner in the coxless pairs in Barcelona 1992 when they snatched gold. In 1996 in Atlanta, Pinsent partner Steve again, and he famously joined him for their win in the Coxless Fours in Sydney.

It was widely expected that after Atlanta, Sir Steve would take a step away from the sport to spend more time with his family. In 1997, he surprised everyone by announcing that he would be starting his training for the next four-year cycle. He wanted to continue on until the Olympic Games in Sydney to hopefully bring home a fifth gold medal. Steve was already considered the greatest rower the Olympic games have ever seen, but he was still driven by something more.

Sir Steve was not just successful as an English rower at the Olympic Games but also at the World Championships. He had four seasons from 1993 to 1996 where he was dominant in every race. He ended all of those seasons unbeaten. In 1999 Sir Steve won his 9th World Championship Gold in Canada. His other gold medals came in 1986, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998.

2. Sir Matthew Pinsent

Sir Matthew Pinsent completed his degree from Saint Catherine’s College at Oxford in 1991. Whilst there, he captained the Oxford Rowing Club and captained the Oxford team to famous victories over their Cambridge counterparts in 1990 and 1991. When he left college he instantly became a hit on the rowing scene.

His partner for much of his career was the most famous English rowers of all time. Starting in 1991, Matthew Pinsent partnered Sir Steve Redgrave throughout most of his career. First in the coxless pairs and later in the coxless fours. Starting in 1991, Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave managed to win gold medals at every Olympic Games and World Championships until Steve retired after the Sydney Games in 2000.

Matthew Pinsent found another English rower by the name of James Cracknell to fill the Redgrave sized hole in his boat. The two were already reliable partners as Cracknell had been part of the Coxless Four boat with Redgrave and Pinsent. The new partners powered to success, winning the World Championships in 2001 and 2002.

If we were allowed to look into Matthew Pinsent’s trophy cabinet we would find Olympic Medals from 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004. This haul of gold medals is only beaten by two people. His compatriot Sir Steve, and Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniun, who both have 5.

The Henley Royal Regatta was a successful stomping ground for Sir Matthew. During his time in the competition, he won 14 championships, each one from the coxless pairs or fours. He only failed to win in 1992. Matthew retired from competitive rowing in 2004 and very shortly after was made into a knight of the realm.


3. James Cracknell

James Cracknell had his first major success in a boat at the World Junior Championships in 1990. His coxless fours team won gold. When he finished his studying at Reading University he moved on to become a mainstay in GB’s rowing squad. His first potential appearance at the Olympics was a story of woe, as he had to pull out as he became ill with tonsillitis.

During the winter season in 1997 he joined up with Olympic legends Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. Their aim was to build a team that would go forward to the Sydney Olympics and dominate. This new team went on to comprehensively win 3 world titles and in 2000 they won the Olympic title, allowing Sir Steve to win his 5th gold medal in a row.

As teammates Redgrave and Time Foster retired, it was up to James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent to create a new pair of powerful English rowers. Inevitably, these two English rowers found success as a coxless pair. During the 2001 season, they won the world championships and the year after won both the coxed and coxless pairs, which are rarely seen.

Athens Olympics came around and the famous pair were favourites. A rare defeat resulted in the two rowers moving back to a quad boat. Although injuries and illness tried to hold them back they eventually won in the final by a tiny 0.08 seconds.

It turned out to be Cracknell’s final race. He moved into the media side of the rowing industry and started to test himself by taking on endurance races worldwide. Not satisfied with his current work James took himself and enrolled at Cambridge University in 2018. He began to study for a master’s degree in human evolution. During his time at Cambridge, he was persuaded to join their rowing team for the varsity competition. he was 46 at the time and was at least 10 years older than any of the other rowers on the team.

Since then James has pushed himself back into his endurance racing and can be found running, rowing or cycling around the world to raise money for a variety of charities. His best time in the marathon was 2:43:12 set at the ripe age of 45.

In conclusion, the remarkable careers of these top three English rowers truly underscore the strength and spirit of English rowing. Their exceptional achievements, dedication, and enduring influence have firmly positioned them as some of the greatest athletes in the sport’s history.

They have not just won races and set records, but also inspired countless individuals to pursue rowing, contributing significantly to the sport’s growth and popularity.

As we celebrate their legacy, let’s remember that their journeys were not just about victories and medals; they were about perseverance, passion, and a deep love for rowing. These timeless stories continue to inspire and will undoubtedly remain an integral part of English rowing history for generations to come.