• Rewind to 1992

'The purest, most courageous example of determination'

Josh Williams April 19, 2012
Derek Redmond had been plagued by injuries throughout his career © Getty Images

Derek Redmond had felt the pain of Olympic heartbreak at the Seoul Games in 1988, and knew he never wanted to confront it again.

"I remember when the [Seoul] closing ceremony was taking place I stayed in my hotel room on my own; I didn't even watch," Redmond, who withdrew injured, told BBC Sport. "I never felt part of it or like I deserved to be there. So I was determined to be a part of it in Barcelona four years later."

Redmond's preparations for Barcelona in 1992 were meticulous: he ensured he was not rooming near any of the noisier members of the British squad, for example, as he tried to give himself the best chance of 400 metres glory.

And plenty of erudite commentators expected glory's hand to rest on his shoulder. Redmond had the talent, that was not in doubt - in 1985 and 1987 he broke the British 400m record, and he pocketed gold in the 4x400m at the Tokyo World Championships in 1991 - and, with the Seoul disappointment still burning inside him, he also had the motivation.

"I felt good in Barcelona and I was running really well," Redmond recalls. "I remember clocking 45 seconds dead in the heats without even trying, and it had never felt so easy. So I was running for a medal, no doubt about that.

"I'd had two really good rounds without even trying and the night before the semi-final I'd talked with my father and my coach and we'd decided I was going to push a bit harder and try to get a good lane for the final."

But Redmond and injuries were never far apart - he missed the 1986 Commonwealth Games with a hamstring problem, and considered retiring from athletics in 1989 - and, after four years of preparation, four years of life put on hold, four years of bloody-minded focus, his body was about to betray him again.

Jim Redmond will carry the Olympic torch before the 2012 Games © Getty Images

"In the semi-final I got out of the blocks well, but after 150m or so it felt like I'd been shot in the back of the leg," Redmond remembers. He fell to the floor as Red Cross workers prepared to swarm him - but this wasn't any old race, and despite feeling such acute pain, he still believed. So he hauled himself to his feet in the hope of unlikely, dramatic victory. One problem: he could no longer run, only limp.

While all this was happening, Derek's father, Jim, was running towards the track and unwittingly about to create one of the most enduring Olympic moments, a gesture that transcends athletics. Eventually, he reached his son.

"He tried to talk me out of [trying to finish] at first," Redmond Jnr said. "He was telling me that I had nothing to prove and that I didn't need to do this, but I told him I was going to finish. Then he said that we would do it together. So we did, and I limped over the line in tears." The howling Redmond, re-visited by the harrowing memories of four years previous, had thrilled the world with his bravery.

In the days after the race, Redmond received a host of messages from other competitors at the Olympics on the messaging system that had been set up. One, from a Canadian he had never met, captured the mood aptly.

"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," it read. "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."

What happened next? Redmond succumbed to injuries once and for all. "That was me done after that [Barcelona]," he said. "I had about eight or nine operations but I was never fit enough to compete again." He went on to enjoy a second career as a motivational speaker. Redmond Snr will carry the flame at the Olympic torch relay in 2012.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Josh Williams Close
Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk