Revisiting the agony and resilience of Redmond's Barcelona race
British Olympian Derek Redmond was 250 meters from the finish line when he heard the 'pop' that would mark the end of an unrealized sprinting career, and the beginning of one of history's most unforgettable Olympic moments.
It came on the back straight of his 1992 Olympic semifinal race in Barcelona. Redmond grabbed the back of his leg and watched helplessly as the rest of the men's 400-meter field completed a race that he thought was his. The pain from the snapped hamstring forced him to his knees in the middle of Lane 5. But his determination to finish the race propelled him back to his feet. He shrugged off pleas from race officials to stop as he half-hopped, half ran down the track.
"The thought that went through my mind, as crazy as it sounds now, was 'I can still catch them,'" recalled Redmond, now a motivational speaker in England. "I just remember thinking to myself, 'I'm not going to stop. I'm going to finish this race.'"
From the stands, Jim Redmond watched as his son struggled around the final turn. Twenty years later, Jim still can't fully explain what inspired him to run onto the track that day to help Derek, but the result will forever be remembered as one of the most powerful images in Olympic history.
"I did what animals do, what humans do; it's instinctive," said Jim. "Everyone does it. It just so happens that most people think about doing it, but I actually went on there to help."
Jim helped Derek finish the final 75 meters of the race, and the pair crossed the finish line to one of the largest ovations of the Games. To watch the footage of the race is to embark on a two-and-a-half minute emotional roller coaster, a ride that will first break your heart before subsequently warming it at the magnificence of the Olympic spirit.
Since 1992, Derek has arguably become the most famous Olympian to ever finish last in an Olympic race. He has used his experiences as an Olympic athlete to build an established career as a motivational speaker, passing on messages of perseverance, teamwork and self-belief to business professionals as well as school children. His Olympic story has been used by coaches, referenced in books and Jim said it has even been the focal point of religious sermons. In 2009, President Obama referenced Derek's story in an Olympic bid speech.
It wasn't the first time an injury had dashed Derek's hopes. He did not compete at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul after tearing his Achilles tendon an hour before his first race was set to begin. What hurt more in Barcelona was that '92 was expected to be Redmond's year.
Just one year removed from landing a gold as part of Great Britain's 4x400 relay team at the 1991 world championships in Tokyo, Redmond breezed through his first two races in Barcelona, winning both heats with minimal effort. There was little doubt in his mind that he would once again be on the podium -- this time as an individual Olympic champion.
"I was really looking gold or silver," said Derek. "I was in good shape and a medal was definitely on the card [in Barcelona]."
Added Jim, "The question was what color would it be: silver or gold? And then the [injury] occurred and it was no longer a question of which color medal, but rather, what time is the next plane [out of Barcelona]."
The ensuing heartbreak took Derek two or three years to overcome. He couldn't watch the race and didn't like to talk about it. Surgery resulted in 18 months of rehab, the hamstring never fully healing. The surgeon told Derek he would never again compete for his country, but when Redmond played on Great Britain's men's basketball team a few years later, he sent the surgeon a signed photo, "thanking him for his confidence."
"I'm lucky because Derek didn't live at home anymore," joked Jim, who recalled Derek being both moody and snappy at times. "It was really a result of not getting it right when he should have had it right."
The same determination that helped Derek back to his feet in Barcelona would help him transform his life from that of a broken down athlete to an inspiring role model. With the 2012 Games on his home soil, Derek has spent the last year in high demand. In addition to numerous speaking engagements at corporate workshops and schools, a commitment that has increased leading up to London 2012,
And Derek isn't the only Redmond with a hand in this year's games. Jim was selected by the British Olympic Association to serve as a torchbearer, an honor he fulfilled last week in front of thousands near the family's hometown in Northampton.
Derek joined dozens of other friends and family in renting a bus to follow along with Jim, cheering him on in what could be considered his second Olympic appearance.
"The joke I kept making," said Derek, "was that if he doesn't make it, I'll carry him across the line."
It wasn't until 2011 -- 19 years after his injury -- that Derek and his father finally returned to the track where his gold-medal dreams were shattered. The result was surprising.
"When we left the stadium 20 years ago, there was a cold feeling," said Jim. "So we went there expecting to find a cold feeling, but it was different. It was nothing like when we left."
For Derek Redmond, Barcelona '92 will go down as merely an accident, one final insurmountable hurdle in the way of an otherwise promising sprinting career.
For the rest of us, the image of a loving father helping to carry his son across the finish line will forever go down as a moment worthy of Olympic praise. A reminder that to be an Olympic champion doesn't mean you have to take home the gold.