From the minute Derek Redmond arrived in Barcelona, everything felt right. He was 26 years old and in that rare psychological state that athletes crave: on song, in the groove, effortless. “If I had entered the synchronised swimming I reckon I would have won a gold in that,” he says. “That’s how confident I was.”
Seoul was behind him. Four years earlier, Redmond – a precocious 400m runner from Milton Keynes who had broken the British record aged 19 – was broken down by injuries and pulled out while warming up for his first heat. Accompanied by his father, Jim, a club level sprinter in his day and his mentor in all things, Redmond holed up in his apartment and wished that he was somewhere else.
In Barcelona, he just flew. “I had two Olympics to make up for in one.” That meant winning a medal. He won his first heat, in 45.03 seconds. “I literally jogged around.” His coach told him to do the same in the quarter finals: Redmond won in 45.02 seconds. He entered the Olympic 400m semi finals as the fastest qualifier.
The race could not have been going better. Redmond got the quickest start and after 150 metres was exactly where he wanted to be. “I was absolutely just flowing down the back straight. Nice and easy, no strain.” He heard a funny pop. “I thought it was a sound in the crowd, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Come on, Redmond, concentrate.’” But the sound had been his hamstring tearing. Two strides later, Redmond was on his knees. The race, the Olympics, everything, ran on without him.
In his mind, he was still flowing. “I thought, ‘If I get up now and start running, I will catch these guys.’” He got up and hopped. It was only 50 metres later, when everyone else was over the line, that Redmond began to cry. He refused to pull out of a second Olympic games. He hobbled on. The stadium rose. He didn’t notice.
“Call it selfish, call it whatever you want, I had to finish,” says Redmond. It is 20 years later. Millions of YouTube hits, thousands of letters and emails, advertising campaigns, motivational speaking engagements, all based around that sudden flash of grit. “I am going to finish regardless of what else was happening around me in the stadium and in the world.” Redmond’s father supported his son down the home straight. The two men held each other. “Nothing else mattered. It wasn’t for Queen and country. It wasn’t for the team. It wasn’t for my coach. It was for me.”