Still on a high from his Olympic gold triumph, rowing champion Matthew Pinsent is contemplating his future. With his autobiography, A Lifetime In A Race out now, he talks to Hannah Stephenson about his plans for a family.

MATTHEW Pinsent is still on a high from his team's Olympic rowing victory as he enthusiastically takes out the heavy gold medal he won in Athens to show me.

''I take it everywhere with me,'' the 6ft 5in sportsman smiles. He also admits that he's even starting to bore his team mates by constantly talking about every minute detail of their winning race, although he's only watched it back once.

Looking relaxed and confident, he's developed a croaky voice in the last few days, but says it's not from all the celebratory parties, or giving too many interviews. It's probably a throat infection but he hasn't had time to see the doctor.

All the blood, sweat and tears of the last four years came to fruition at the 2004 Olympics and Matthew's tears flowed like never before during the medal presentation, a culmination of emotion spilling out after a year in which Great Britain's coxless four were plagued by injury and illness.

The Athens race was a close one - England beat Canada by 0.08 of a second. It could so easily have gone the other way and Matthew admits that the prospect of returning with a silver doesn't bear thinking about.

"Had we lost by that much, it would have been horrendous because I would have spent forever thinking, what if we'd done this, if only we'd done that.''

Getting back to normality after such a victory is going to be difficult, he admits.

"You build it up in your own mind so much that you really make no plans about afterwards.''

But he is aware that coming down to earth can be difficult emotionally. He went through a big anti-climax after the team's gold win in Sydney, he remembers.

"I was all over the place. One moment I was really high and the next I was completely shattered. I'd want to go and party and then an hour later I'd feel absolutely drained.

'ONCE we'd won the race (in Athens) and it was over, one of the priorities for me was, I'm not going to do that again to my wife. It was hard for her after Sydney. She's on the outside because she knows she can't help, she can't make the boat go quicker.

"This time around, I'm trying to take the tops off the peaks and keep myself from plunging down into a quiet, reflective mood. At the same time I want to look back and savour the moment.''

He still won't reveal whether he will go for a fifth gold in Beijing in 2008, equalling Sir Steve Redgrave's record. He just wants to bask in the glory of Athens and take some time out to plan his future.

"I don't want to get too stressed about the decision. When I know, I'll know.''

But the 33-year-old is not one to sit still for long. He completed the last pages of his autobiography, A Lifetime In A Race, from his hotel bedroom following his Olympic win.

In the coming months, he is looking forward to the little things in life that most people take for granted. Like, for instance, feeling hungry.

When training, Matthew has to consume 6,000 calories a day, much of which has to be carbohydrate. Because he has to eat so much, he's never really hungry when he eats, he says.

He is also well aware of the sacrifices he and his wife, Dee, a 30-year-old management consultant who rowed for Harvard and Oxford, have had to make in their relationship for the sake of his sport.

In training, he gets around one day off a month and they rarely have time for breakfast together.

''I've been married about two years and I've had breakfast with my wife about 50 times - 30 of those have been on holiday.

"One of the challenges is that we've lived in different time zones, almost. At the weekend when I go training, she goes running. My parents can't understand it. They don't know how we do it.''

Holidays have been sparse and the huge pressures of top level rowing unrelenting.

He's evasive when asked how long he plans to take off.

"Maybe the rest of my life,'' he smiles. "Dee has given the go-ahead if I want to go on rowing, but it's going to take ages to decide.''

He sometimes wonders if Dee secretly longs for the day when he gives up this all-consuming pursuit.

"I think that's a conversation we will have. I want to find out. It's something I need to ask her.''

He also would like children, although he points out that it is possible to have a family and continue rowing.

'STEVE (Redgrave) did it. James (Cracknell) is doing it. He's got a young son. I know fathers who see their kids growing up less than Steve Redgrave did. He was able to pick them up from school occasionally through the week. He's there to read them bedtime stories.

"We've all heard stories of people who leave the house before their kids are awake and arrive back after they're asleep. At least a rowing life is predictable. You know where you'll be in two weeks' time. It's not all doom and gloom.''

In the early years of his Olympic career, he was in the shadow of older and more experienced oarsman Sir Steve Redgrave.

But he says now: "It never bothered me because I was never in it to be famous. I was never in it to get newspaper headlines and we always knew it was going to be like that.

"Steve was adamant that he didn't want it to happen. He fought it really hard on the run-up to Sydney, but it made no difference.

"I'm aware that the other guys in the four this time are having the same treatment - it's Pinsent and Co - but the most important thing is what we achieved together.''

The son of a vicar, Matthew was born in Holt, Norfolk and educated at Eton, where his rowing career began, and Oxford University. Early on he moved to Henley where he could be near the river and his prestigious rowing club, Leander.

"I wasn't particularly good at rowing early on, until I got to 15 or 16. I was rowing with friends who were happy to lark about and then I started rowing in big crews competing against other schools. If we lost, I just thought, I can win that next time. I'd plan it and come back the next year and win. I just did that with bigger and bigger events.''

Rowing has been his lifeblood but he knows that eventually it will come to an end. He may go into broadcasting or simply continue with his motivational speaking and other corporate events.

"All sorts of doors are open now that weren't before. It's a crazy time and I want to enjoy it. I want to pick and choose.''

But he would not want to be a coach, he says.

"It's the same discipline, really hard work and more hours - and you don't get a medal,'' he says, still smiling as he puts away his fourth Olympic gold.

* A Lifetime In A Race, by Matthew Pinsent (Ebury) £18.99. Matthew will be signing copies at Waterstone's, Blackett Street, Newcastle, on Saturday, September 25, 1pm.