As he took his place in the semi-final for the 400 meters at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, many eyes rested on Derek Redmond. He was at his peak and was widely anticipated to podium, if not win outright.
Many months – years, even – of training were behind him, all serving to sculpt and shape him, leading him to the path which would have Olympic gold at the end of it. He was only 400 meters from the end of this path.
Despite having a career that was riddled with injuries, he was no stranger to the podium and the clinking of medals around his neck. He was already a champion of the Commonwealth games, taking gold in the 4×400 meters, gold at the European Championships and both silver and gold in the World Championships. All that was missing was the Olympic medal.
The gun sounded and after a quick, clean start, he was cruising. He recalls;
“For once I had no injuries, despite eight operations in four years, and I’d won the first two rounds without breaking a sweat – including posting the fastest time in the first round of heats. I was confident and when the gun went off I got off to a good start. I got into my stride running round the first turn and I was feeling comfortable. Then I heard a popping sound. I kept on running for another two or three strides then I felt the pain. I thought I’d been shot, but then I recognized the agony.”
“I’d pulled my hamstring before and the pain is excruciating: like someone shoving a hot knife into the back of your knee and twisting it. I grabbed the back of my leg, uttered a few expletives and hit the deck.”
Going down, clutching his leg and trying to collect his thoughts, he glanced up and saw that all the other competitors were out of sight. His chance of winning or even getting to the podium, were over. His Olympic dream ended after around 17 seconds.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening after all the training I’d put in. I looked around to see where the rest of the field were, and they had only 100 meters to go. I remember thinking if I got up I could still catch them and qualify. The pain was intense. I hobbled about 50 meters until I was at the 200 meters mark. Then I realized it was all over. I looked round and saw that everyone else had crossed the finishing line. But I don’t like to give up at anything – not even an argument, as my wife will tell you – and I decided I was going to finish that race if it was the last race I ever did.”
Doctors, other medics and even officials were on the track, waving at him to stop, but he simply refused to quit, despite already knowing it was over. With roughly 100 meters to go, a man ran on the track, barging past an official that tried to stop him. He ran up behind Derek and threw an arm around him, holding him up. It was his father, Jim.
“I just said, ‘Dad, I want to finish, get me back in the semi-final.’ He said, ‘OK. We started this thing together and now we’ll finish it together.’ He managed to get me to stop trying to run and just walk and he kept repeating, ‘You’re a champion, you’ve got nothing to prove.’ ”
He didn’t know it at the time, as the pain in his leg was screaming louder than the entire Olympic stadium, but everyone watching was cheering, a standing ovation to the man that had so cruelly had his chance at his dream snatched away from him.
“We hobbled over the finishing line with our arms round each other, just me and my dad, the man I’m really close to, who’s supported my athletics career since I was seven years old. I’ve since been told there was a standing ovation by the 65,000 person crowd, but nothing registered at the time. I was in tears and went off to the medical room to be looked at, then I took the bus back to the Olympic village.”
Four years earlier, an Achilles injury prevented him from running at the Olympics in Seoul. His name bore the letters ‘DNS’ – Did Not Start – next to it. In Barcelona, he was adamant that DNF would not appear next to his name.
‘When I saw my doctor he told me I’d never represent my country again. I felt like there’d been a death. I never raced again and I was angry for two years. Then one day I just thought: there are worse things than pulling a muscle in a race, and I just decided to get on with my life.”
From there, Derek’s passion for sport meant he would try a new avenue. His love of basketball proved to be an outlet and such was his skill that after trials with various teams, he went on to play for the Great Britain basketball team. Not forgetting what his doctor told him about never representing his country again, Derek sent him a signed photo of the Great Britain team. His impish sense of humor rushing to the surface.
“Today I don’t feel anger, just frustration. The footage has since been used in adverts by Visa, Nike and the International Olympic Committee – I don’t go out of my way to watch it, but it isn’t painful anymore and I have the Visa ad on my iPad.
“If I hadn’t pulled a hamstring that day I could have been an Olympic medalist, but I love the life I have now. I might not have been a motivational speaker or competed for my country at basketball, as I went on to do. And my dad wouldn’t have been asked to carry the Olympic torch in 2012, which was a huge honor for him.”
Derek Redmond is truly an honorary Spartan in our eyes. An unflinching, unquestioning belief of never quitting, epitomized in one man.
Do you have this mentality? Prove it and we’ll see you at the finish line.