RRM@21 – 9: Sugar and Spice

11 March 2019 

By Chris Dodd 

Rumour has it that the boat that carried Britain’s coxless four to Olympic victory at Sydney 2000 was never washed after its run down Penrith Lake, nor were the hands that grasped its oars. Whatever the truth, the iconic shell suffered a slight mishap soon after it went on display at the RRM. In the year of the museum’s 21st birthday, Chris Dodd continues his recollections as founder and curator.

After the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Aylings donated the boat that they built for James Cracknell, Steve Redgrave, Tim Foster and Matthew Pinsent – the boat that carried the British crew to gold medals – to the museum. The crew manned it for the last time to row it from Leander to Mill Meadows, complete with two little packets of Olympic-sponsored sugar taped inside the hull beside Redgrave’s seat in case the diabetic oarsman faced an emergency, such as delay before the start of a race.

Steve Redgrave with all his trophies and medals in 1998. Photograph by Peter Spurrier.

After the boat had been on display for some time, a visitor nicked the sugar. I sent an email to John Coates, rower and chairman of Sydney’s organising committee, asking if he had any sponsored sugar left. His immediate reply was that he was flying to London in a few days and would be delighted to deliver a box to Henley.

I gleefully told the chief exec, Paul Mainds, and suggested that we issue a press release to exploit our good fortune. Paul rejected the idea because he thought that losing the sugar would show the museum in poor light, unable to look after its collection properly. My journalistic instinct didn’t agree. Here was an opportunity lost.

Meanwhile Down Under, Coates attended an official dinner on the evening before he took off for London with his cargo. He found that he was seated next to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. Next day, the Herald’s diary blazoned the tale of the sugar saga to the world.


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