By the time the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona came by, British athlete Derek Redmond had a lot to prove. He was considered one of the best athletes produced by Great Britain but injuries had blighted his career. Still, he wanted that moment of glory every athlete craves: an Olympic medal.
And when his participation at 1992 Olypmpic Games came to an end, he did not win a medal. What he won was more intangible: respect from those present in the stadium. An injured Redmond refused to quit during the 400m semi-final, and crossed the line with his father.
To this day, it remains one of the most beautiful moments in the history of the Games.
During his first Olympic appearance at the 1988 Games in Seoul, he was forced to withdraw just minutes before the opening heats of the 400m race after failing to recover suffering an Achilles tendon injury. The following year, Redmond almost considered giving up his athletics career as injuries continued to trouble him, but he never quit.
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A promising career
But despite constant injury problems, there was no doubting his talents. In fact, his promise was evident when at the age of 19 in 1985, he broke the 400m British record by clocking 44.82 seconds.
Despite the heartbreak at Seoul, Redmond was also part of the Great Britain side that stunned favourites USA to bag gold at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.
Having carved a reputation as one of his country’s best relay runner, it was time for Redmond to do the same as an individual athlete. The man from Buckingham was touted to win his first Olympic medal in Barcelona.
Down but not out
The signs were evident as he registered his best time in four years in the preliminary round and finished first in the quarter-finals of the 400m events. Things were going smooth for him before Redmond ran his semi-final race.
With momentum on his side, Redmond started strong as he ran the first 150m before he abruptly stopped and fell on his knees on the track after pulling his hamstring.
He got up, took a few more strides before it struck him that he’d ruptured his hamstring. With his competitors way ahead of him, Redmond was motionless on the track with his hands over his face as he broke down.
He knew his dream was over. However, that didn’t deter his desire to complete the race. Instead of waiting for the medical officials to take him off the track, Redmond gathered the courage to get up. He started hobbling towards the finish line amid the pain of a torn hamstring, fighting back tears.
“I thought I’d been shot, but then I recognised the agony,” Redmond told Daily Mail as he recalled that iconic race.
‘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.”
As he limped, a figure emerged from the crowd and barged on to the track, despite the attempts of security officials. He reached out to Redmond. As we now know, it was his father Jim Redmond.
Redmond said: “All these doctors and officials were coming onto the track, trying to get me to stop but I was having none of it. Then, with about 100m to go, I became aware of someone else on the track. I didn’t realise it was my dad, Jim, at first. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me, you don’t need to do this.’
“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’.”
The duo completed the race together as Redmond’s father consoled him on their way to the finish line. The 65,000 spectators present at the Barcelona athletic stadium rose to their feet and gave Redmond a standing ovation for his determination to complete the race.
“Even now, it’s hard to say how or why I did it,” Redmond’s father is quoted as saying by the Guardian.
“It was a spontaneous reaction, as if I had seen him hit by a car. I certainly didn’t run down to help him finish – if anything it was to stop him. I could accept the fact that my son was injured, but not that he was going to carry on in pain, causing himself even greater damage.”
As his father had assisted him, Redmond was officially disqualified and his result was recorded as “Did Not Finish” even though he did cross the line.
For the record, USA’s Quincy Watts went on to win gold in the 400m final.
But even though Redmond did not win a medal, he managed to be a part one of the most iconic and emotional moments in the history of the Olympics which is fondly remembered even today.
“My dream was over,” Redmond said. “In Seoul, four years earlier, I didn’t even get to the start line because of an Achilles injury and had “DNS” – Did Not Start – next to my name. I didn’t want them to write “DNF” – Did Not Finish – in Barcelona.”
His race in Barcelona signalled the end of his athletics career after a surgeon told him that he would never able to compete again. Following a career marred by injuries, he accepted the end of his athletics career but it did not stop him from leaving sports.
He switched to basketball and later went on to play at the professional level for Birmingham Bullets. Redmond also appeared for trials to be a part of England’s rugby sevens team before going on to make a career as a motivational speaker.
Fitting, because if anyone can bring across the message of the Olympic spirit, it had to be Redmond.