Unlike Carl Lewis and Daley Thompson, Derek Redmond is not a name that conjures up memories of Olympic gold medals. But it is Redmond who defines the essence of the human spirit. Redmond arrived at the 1992 Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona determined to win a medal in the 400. The color of the medal was meaningless; he just wanted to win one. Just one.
He had been forced to withdraw from the 400 at the 1988 Games in Seoul, only 10 minutes before the race, because of an Achilles tendon injury. He then underwent five surgeries over the next year. This was the same runner who had shattered the British 400-meter record at age 19. So when the 1992 Games arrived, this was his time, his moment, his stage, to show the world how good he was and who he was.
Derek’s father Jim had accompanied him to Barcelona, just as he did for all world competitions. They were as close as a father and son could be. Inseparable, really. The best of friends. When Derek ran, it was as if his father were running right next to him.
The day of the race arrives. Father and son reminisce about what it took for Derek to get to this point. They talk about ignoring past heartbreaks, past failures. They agree that if anything bad happens, no matter what it is, Derek has to finish the race, period.
The top four finishers in each of the two semifinal heats qualify for the Olympic final. As race time approaches for the semifinal 400 heat, Jim heads up to his seat at the top of Olympic Stadium, not far from where the Olympic torch was lit just a few days earlier. He is wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Have you hugged your foot today?”
With the help of his father, an injured Derek Redmond completed his race in the 1992 Olympics.
The stadium is packed with 65,000 fans, bracing themselves for one of sport’s greatest and most exciting spectacles. The race begins and Redmond breaks from the pack and quickly seizes the lead. “Keep it up, keep it up,” Jim says to himself.
Down the backstretch, only 175 meters away from finishing, Redmond is a shoo-in to make the finals. Suddenly, he hears a pop. In his right hamstring. He pulls up lame, as if he had been shot.
“Oh, no,” Jim says to himself. His face pales. His leg quivering, Redmond begins hopping on one leg, then slows down and falls to the track. As he lays on the track, clutching his right hamstring, a medical personnel unit runs toward him. At the same time, Jim Redmond, seeing his son in trouble, races down from the top row of the stands, sidestepping people, bumping into others. He has no credential to be on the track, but all he thinks about is getting to his son, to help him up. “I wasn’t going to be stopped by anyone,” he later tells the media.
On the track, Redmond realizes his dream of an Olympic medal is gone. Tears run down his face. “All I could think was, ‘I’m out of the Olympics — again,'” he would say.
As the medical crew arrives with a stretcher, Redmond tells them, “No, there’s no way I’m getting on that stretcher. I’m going to finish my race.”
Then, in a moment that will live forever in the minds of millions, Redmond lifts himself to his feet, ever so slowly, and starts hobbling down the track. The other runners have finished the race, with Steve Lewis of the U.S. winning the contest in 44.50. Suddenly, everyone realizes that Redmond isn’t dropping out of the race by hobbling off to the side of the track. No, he is actually continuing on one leg. He’s going to attempt to hobble his way to the finish line. All by himself. All in the name of pride and heart.
Slowly, the crowd, in total disbelief, rises and begins to roar. The roar gets louder and louder. Through the searing pain, Redmond hears the cheers, but “I wasn’t doing it for the crowd,” he would later say. “I was doing it for me. Whether people thought I was an idiot or a hero, I wanted to finish the race. I’m the one who has to live with it.”
One painful step at a time, each one a little slower and more painful than the one before, his face twisted with pain and tears, Redmond limps onward, and the crowd, many in tears, cheer him on.
Suddenly, Jim Redmond finally gets to the bottom of the stands, leaps over the railing, avoids a security guard, and runs out to his son, with two security people chasing after him. “That’s my son out there,” he yells back to security, “and I’m going to help him.”
Finally, with Derek refusing to surrender and painfully limping along the track, Jim reaches his son at the final curve, about 120 meters from the finish, and wraps his arm around his waist.
“I’m here, son,” Jim says softly, hugging his boy. “We’ll finish together.” Derek puts his arms around his father’s shoulders and sobs.
Together, arm in arm, father and son, with 65,000 people cheering, clapping and crying, finish the race, just as they vowed they would. A couple steps from the finish line, and with the crowd in an absolute frenzy, Jim releases the grip he has on his son, so Derek could cross the finish line by himself. Then he throws his arms around Derek again, both crying, along with everyone in the stands and on TV.
“I’m the proudest father alive,” he tells the press afterwards, tears in his eyes. “I’m prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did.”
At the 1992 Olympics the athletes had access to a rudimentary computerised messaging system. This allowed them to log on to one of the Olympic computers, which were distributed around the athletes’ village, and send someone else a message that they would be able to pick up when they next logged on – a kind of electronic mail, if you will. It’s never really caught on. Anyway, in the days after the race Redmond received scores of messages from his fellow competitors, including this from a Candian competitor he had never met:
“Long after the names of the medallists have faded from our minds, you will be remembered for having finished, for having tried so hard, for having a father to demonstrate the strength of his love for his son. I thank you, and I will always remember your race and I will always remember you – the purest, most courageous example of grit and determination I have seen.”
It is as true today as it was then, many years ago
What Redmond said
“Everything I had worked for was finished. I hated everybody. I hated the world. I hated hamstrings. I hated it all. I felt so bitter that I was injured again. I told myself I had to finish. I kept hopping round. Then, with 100 metres to go, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my old man.”
What Redmond’s father, Jim, said
“I’m the proudest father alive, I’m prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did.”
Derek Redmond’s father to carry Olympic flame during torch relay
Twenty years after helping his injured son across the finish line in Barcelona, Jim Redmond has been selected to carry the Olympic flame during the torch relay for the London Games.
Redmond is one of the British Olympic Association’s nominated torchbearers for the 8,000-mile nationwide relay that starts in May and culminates with the lighting of the cauldron during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium on 27 July.
Redmond created one of the most emotional moments in Olympic history in 1992 with his spontaneous act to help his crying, injured son during the 400m semi-finals. With Derek Redmond hobbling badly with a torn hamstring, his father ran on to the track and virtually carried him the rest of the way.
“I saw my [son] having a problem and it was my duty to help,” Redmond said on Tuesday, standing beneath the 1948 London Olympic flame at Wembley Stadium. “I actually went on the track to try to stop him inflicting further damage to himself. It was Derek’s idea. He asked me to get him back in that lane and I offered him a shoulder to lean on.
“It was just a question of me getting on to help him. The Games had lost that sort of direction. It was all about winning, winning, winning. We changed it by showing we were taking part. We brought a different aspect to it without even planning it.”
The father hopes the roles are not reversed this summer. “We had a joke about it this morning over the phone,” Redmond said. “He said they should invite me to do it and this time I will help you. I said: ‘You are probably right.’
“But I am not going to break down because I intend to be the slowest person. [Derek] didn’t win the race and created a lot of attention afterwards so I have no intention of finishing too quickly. I want to be the last one because I will get more coverage.”