Olympic Games: Athletics: Flying Redmond takes big step forward

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The Independent Online
Derek Redmond became an Olympian yesterday - four years later than planned, writes Mike Rowbottom from Barcelona. A few minutes before his first 400 metres heat at the Seoul Games he had to accept that the pain in his Achilles tendon made it impossible to compete. Just before the race got underway with an empty lane, he put on a brave face for the television cameras and talked about all the other races that lay ahead of him.

What he did not suspect then was that he would miss the majority of them with injury. Since that day, the British 400 metres record- holder has spent as much time in the clinic as on the track, undergoing one operation on his toe and four - the last of them in March this year - on his Achilles tendons. Even his final domestic appearance before the Games - at Gateshead - had to be called off at short notice when he experienced the old, familiar warning signs while he was warming up.

But yesterday, in the glaring heat of the Montjuic stadium, he ran apparently without hindrance, winning his heat in 45.03sec, the fastest time of the round, and more significantly, the fastest he has run in four years. 'It's a big relief,' he said. 'I can now say I've competed in my first Olympics.'

If he has begun them expending perhaps a little more energy than is wise, well, he had his reasons. 'I couldn't switch off late on like I used to because I remembered what happened to Tom McKean at the world championships last year and I didn't want to be pipped on the line. I'm a bit tired, but there are more than 24 hours to go until the next round and it might be a bit slower. Anyway, once the first race is out of the way you can get into your running.'

That is something Redmond, now 26, is clearly looking forward to. He has always been a naturally fluent runner, as he showed in breaking the British record in 1985 at the age of 19, and bringing it down to 44.50 in the semi-final of the world championships two years later. The prospect of that talent flourishing untrammelled is a heady one.

Would that that prospect lay ahead of Roger Black, who like Redmond has overpaid his dues to injury. Four years ago he was making regular appearances on Barry Norman's early morning Olympic get-togethers on ITV, still frustrated by the foot injury which had caused him to miss the previous year's world championships.

Black has already travelled the long road back, adding a second European title to the one he won in 1986, and earning individual silver and team gold at last year's world championships.

But this season his resurgence has been checked by an old hip problem which affects his hamstring. It has niggled away at him this season as he has suffered a series of batterings from the top American runners.

After qualifying somewhat uncomfortably in his heat in the relatively restrained time of 45.94, Black appeared subdued and preoccupied - a world away from the bubbly mood which Redmond is now in.

His coach, Mike Whittingham, has been working hard on bolstering Black's morale during a period of pre-Games training in Monte Carlo in company with other British Olympians such as Linford Christie and Colin Jackson. 'He's nursing a problem and he's lost confidence because of it,' he said. 'He's not 100 per cent. But this is the Olympic Games. You've got to do it.'

Danny Everett, the winner of the US 400 metres trials and silver medallist in Seoul, is of the same mind. Having won his heat, he went straight to his kit-bag and packed a large bag of ice on to the inside of the injured right Achilles tendon which he thought last week might prevent him from competing.

He is believed to have had one pain-killing injection, although it did not work perfectly. 'You can't always be in the perfect shape,' he said. 'Sometimes you just have to go on and perform.'

This is the Games, as Whittingham says. For Phylis Smith, the 400 metres runner from Birmingham who is making her first Olympic appearance, the chance to perform in yesterday's first-round heat - which she won in 53.59 ahead of the favourite, Marie-Jose Perec - could not come soon enough. She woke at three in the morning in the Olympic village thinking it was time to go, before checking her clock. 'I went back to bed and got up again at six,' she said.

For Dave Grindley, the Wigan athlete who won the European junior 400 metres title last year, the Olympic experience was sweet, as, after following Everett home, he recalled his feelings before the race. 'I was so nervous before that,' he said, still sweating and breathing hard in the humid air. 'It's the most nervous I've ever been I think. In fact, it is. Definitely.'

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