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Two Million Strokes A Minute by Matthew Pinsent

Release date: 02nd September, 2004
Publisher: Ebury Press

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £13.29
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Two Million Strokes A Minute
By Matthew Pinsent
Ebury Press price: £13.29 (rrp £18.99)

It's late August, half past eight on a Saturday morning. Ordinarily, this is a time for a lie-in followed by a leisurely amble for the papers, but for sports-loving Britons, 21st August 2004 is another of those weekend mornings when the lure of the television screen supersedes all else.

Britain's coxless four - Pinsent, Coode, Cracknell and Williams - are literally neck-and-neck with the Canadian world champions in a race for the Olympic gold medal. Pain is etched onto the rower's faces, sweat streams from their bodies and with 40 strokes to go, Williams makes a call for a final, Herculean push. Such is the noise of the crowd that the other rowers in the boat cannot hear it, but know instinctively that this is where that last effort must come.

In the end, eight hundredths of a second separated the British from the Canadian crew. Viewers perched on the edge of their seats back home remained tense as the finish line drawn across the water by the television camera was slightly off-centre; once the official angle was shown though, it became apparent that Britain had won by the width of the number on their boat's bow.

This was one of sport's greatest moments as men reached deep inside for inspiration, stamina and strength. But only one crew could win and, in the most dramatic fashion, Matthew Pinsent became an Olympic Games gold medallist for the fourth time.

In Two Million Strokes A Minute Pinsent's writing style mixes the intensity of competition with the rigours of an athlete's everyday life in an accomplished manner which makes for a hugely enjoyable read. It would be fair to say that with Sir Steve Redgrave, he has raised British rowing's profile to unprecedented levels, but this book is not specialist in nature and is bound to attract non-sports fans as readers. Such broad appeal is a rare quality; Pinsent achieves it by describing the discipline required to be a champion - the dedication, the pain, coping with (occasional) defeat and the hours of training to get things right.

It's by no means a glamorous existence as the author discovered at his first Olympics in Barcelona in 1992: "I'm fast learning that one of the attributes demanded of an Olympic athlete is the ability to waste time without wasting energy," he writes of the wait before competition. Later, wearing the labels of 'World Champion', 'World record holder' and 'favourite' before the Olympic final creates its own pressure: "this is far from fun," he says, "this is purgatory."

Pinsent calls victory at the Barcelona Olympics a career-defining moment. Despite his nerves, described here with a wonderful economy of style, once the race is under way, he and 'Redders' realise that their opponents are racing for the silver medal which allows them to win by nearly 5 seconds. The reader too gets to bask in Pinsent's glorious sense of satisfaction.

Throughout this book, the author makes it clear that to succeed - not just at rowing, which perhaps explains why its appeal will be so wide - it is essential to have dedication, drive and commitment of the tunnel-vision variety. Reflecting on Olympic success, Pinsent concludes, "the biggest joy of winning at the Olympics is the one that lasts the rest of your life. You know that you came through all the training and the pressure and succeeded. That satisfaction, sense of accomplishment and all the confidence that goes with them never leave you."

Everyone watching on that Saturday morning sensed this and Pinsent has added to that victory by describing it (and the ones before) in an entertaining and eloquent fashion.

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