An Olympic Tale that has never been forgotten
Prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, then 26-year- old Team GB sprinter Derek Redmond was in the form of his life. With this year marking 25 years since the Games, Inspirational London looks back on the event that changed the Olympian’s life forever.
American Quincy Watts was Derek’s main competition for gold in the 400m, which he began with a bang, posting the fastest time of the first round. He also won his quarter-final and was looking good through the heats with plenty left in the tank. Derek was one of the most promising medal prospects Great Britain had, and as the gun went in the semi, he felt a third British record was within touching distance.
It started promisingly, with a trademark fast start from the blocks: “Moving into the back straight I genuinely felt I was going quicker than ever. Suddenly I heard a funny pop and, thinking it was crowd noise, told myself to concentrate. Three or four strides later, I knew it was nothing of the sort; I hit the deck in searing pain, thinking ‘why me?’, ‘why now?’”
Derek suffered a badly torn hamstring, but within seconds, he was back on his feet, chasing the pack. “I was convinced I could catch the others, despite the pain. There was no way I was giving up on my dream, so crazily, I hobbled after them. By the time, I’d got to the final bend, I looked over to see they had all finished.”
What followed was to become the stuff of sporting legend. As Derek ploughed on in tears, the 65,000 capacity crowd, recognising his ‘never-say-die’ commitment, roared him on. Upon entering the final straight, his father Jim, evaded the security cordon and suddenly appeared at his side.
“Today he’d have been wrestled to the ground by stewards but he somehow smuggled himself onto the track, helped me back into Lane 5 and supported me almost up to the line. I was inconsolable in the medical room, but my Father was an absolute rock. We had to leave separately, unfortunately, and I had to run the media gauntlet alone until a two-and-a-half-hour press conference the next day, where again he was fantastic.”
The incident is remembered for summing up the values and spirit of what it takes to be an Olympian. In 2012, viewers of the US TV channel, NBC, voted it their third greatest Olympic moment ever and the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama referenced it as an example of the triumph of the human spirit.
“Really, the worst thing for me was not missing out on a possible medal but not knowing how fast I could have gone. My coach was predicting I’d dip under
44 seconds, maybe down to 43.8 - we’ll never know but I felt the best I ever did that day.” 23 years later, Iwan Thomas’ British record remains 44.36.
By persevering during the semi-
final, Derek aggravated the injury
so much his hamstring had detached from the bone. Surgery after surgery followed, but rehabilitation proved difficult to overcome. Such was the severity of the injury, Derek went under the knife a total of seven times in just 18 months. In 1994, his surgeon told him to “get a real job as you’ll never compete for your country again!” Unsurprisingly, these words served only as motivation because Derek knew he wasn’t done yet.
Before too long though, Derek
was forced into early retirement from athletics, and instead
turned towards other sporting disciplines he was keen on. He played professional basketball
for the Birmingham Bullets and England, before narrowly missing
out on a cap for the England Rugby Sevens team and even a stint in motorcycling, providing confirmation, if it was ever needed, that Derek’s sporting star was shining bright.
25 years on from that fateful night in Barcelona, Derek Redmond will be forever known for his part in one of the most heart-warming moments in Olympic history.