When Derek Redmond collapsed in heap on the running track in the semi-final of the 400m at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 it was a tragedy for the runner. What happened next though will forever be imprinted on the public’s memory of those games and is still emotional to watch today, a display of pain, grief, determination, pride and the love of a father for his son.
Sport is cruel and that’s why we love to watch it. It is all the more absorbing to watch because we know how important it is to the athletes. Sport is literally built on blood, sweat and tears and for anyone competing in the Olympics it is the pinnacle of a four-year cycle of grit, determination, sacrifice and hard work. When, as so often it does, injury strikes an athlete down in the very moment they need to perform it is not just the physical pain they suffer but the psychological and emotional torment too. Long after the spectators have returned home, the pain of an Olympic failure may dull for an athlete but he will never fully recover.
Derrick Redmond was one of Britain’s best athletes. However his career to date had been marred by constant injury. He had missed the Commonwealth Games in 1986 because of a hamstring injury and had to pull out of the 1988 Seoul Olympics due to tendinitis. He came very close to giving up athletics altogether but had clawed his way back time after time only to have his dreams dashed yet again. However, in the run up to the Olympics in Barcelona his body had started to respond, he ran his fastest 400m in four years and he looked one of the front runners for a medal.
Derek was set for the pinnacle of his athletic achievements and he was so close he could taste it. In the 400m semi-final he came out of the blocks very well and looked to be cruising to a top place finish and a place in the final when tragedy struck. “Running down the back straight I heard a funny clap or a pop and I honestly for a split second thought I’d been shot, and then obviously, I realised I’d pulled a hamstring’, said the runner. His race was over.
As stretcher-bearers came on to the track to carry him off the track he broke away from them and started hobbling along the track. It looked like he wanted to finish the race. However Derek, in his confusion still believed he could qualify for the finals. “When I got to the 200m mark after hobbling 50 metres I looked across and all the other guys had finished and it pretty much hit me that it was al over”.
At hat moment a figure is seen barging past officials onto the track his father had come to help him. The two crossed the finish line together and the pictures of Redmond, face contorted in anguish in the arms of his father became one of the most iconic images for that or any other games. The standing ovation they received from the crowd was the loudest in the competition.
It’s not often that you see the best of humanity played out in front of your eyes, but this was one of those moments, amplified by the intensity of an Olympic arena. Behind every athlete there is a family and support structure it is the parents who nurse sprained ankles and bruised egos, who encourage their children to dream of Olympic glory, and if the dream fails it is the parents who pick up the pieces.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty