OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Athletics: Redmond raises emotional temperature: Mike Rowbottom assesses the aftermath of a Briton's determination to reach the line

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PERHAPS it was only coincidence that Derek Redmond was wearing a shirt yesterday bearing the logo: 'Their finest hour'.

For all he has done in athletics, and for all he will ever do, it had become clear to him that the 250 metres he had hopped and latterly hobbled after pulling a hamstring in the 400m semi-final was just that for him.

As blind instinct to keep going turned into a determination to resist pain and see something through, Redmond was becoming Olympic history, indelibly placing himself into the company of agonised, celebrated finishers such as Dorando Pietri and Jim Peters.

To see a man so spontaneously living out de Coubertin's maxim about it being more important to take part than to win touches people at a deep and instinctive level. Redmond yesterday seemed almost awed by the emotions his effort had stirred.

What clearly surprised him most was the effect it had had upon Britain's sole athletics gold medallist thus far, Linford Christie. Earlier in the year, Christie had criticised the 4 x 400m relay team, Redmond included, which had won at the 1991 World Championships. 'Linford is perfectly well balanced,' Redmond had countered. 'He has a chip on both shoulders.'

But as Redmond sat alone in the warm-down area on Tuesday evening, reflecting upon the shocking end to what looked like being his best chance of earning individual rewards at a major championship since a blight of foot injuries set in in 1987, there was reconciliation.

'Linford and John Regis were walking back,' he said. 'Linford said to John that it was time to bury the hatchet, and he came over and put his arms out. The tears came out, and he sort of broke down as well. It was Mills and Boon sort of stuff, but it bloody happened. It sounds soppy and stupid, but it just shows that this sport isn't all about coming out here and making money and winning. Linford had won, but he knew how much effort I had put into being here too.

'He's more than a gold medallist in what he did yesterday for me. He's a human being.'

Redmond was transparently not engaged in a calculated act when he rose from the track after lying like a wounded deer and started out on his irrational, disturbing search for the line. After Redmond's father, Jim, had charged out of the stands to help him, sans the sacred badge of accreditation, the collective will urging the pair in lane five to frustrate the officials and finish became huge. It was like the final scene of a Paul Hogan movie. 'As soon as I saw the Red Cross people coming towards me with their stretcher, that was it. It was animal instinct - get up and run. There was no way I was going to be carried out of the Olympics. If I had been I don't think I could have carried on with my running career.'

'Derek's dad has always said that as long as he finishes a race in one piece he would be happy,' Redmond's coach, Tony Hadley, said. 'But because he was hurting for his son, when Derek said 'I'm finishing this race' that's what he tried to help him do.'

Redmond recalled: 'When I was on my marks I thought, 'This one's for you, dad.' I really wanted to run a good race for him because he had been through all the rubbish that I had had to go through myself.

'It took a lot of time and money and care to get me to that semi-final. For the past five years I had been up and down, sometimes happy, sometimes completely cheesed off. To say I've been injured for five years is too easy, too quick. I've been injured for five times 365 days. It's been like a prison sentence.

'At one stage I was driving down from Northampton to Chiswick every day, getting caught up in traffic on the M25, and spending three to four hours a day doing a rehabilitation programme where I was deliberately hurting myself to see how far I could go. I did that every day for eight weeks. I'm not trying to make out I'm some kind of hero, just to make it clear what being injured really means.'

Having seen a video of the race, he confesses to some feelings of embarrassment. He laughs at his first sudden conviction upon opening his eyes and seeing the other runners coming down the straight that he could still qualify.

But there will always be the frustration of knowing that he was in the form of his life before his body once more betrayed his talent. 'I tell you, I would have run 44 dead, 44.10 without a problem. The guy from Qatar in front of me was really giving it some welly, and I was just reeling him in. I was floating along, and then it just went. It would be nice to know what I did for that 150 metres.'

Alas, he will never know. In his distraction, Hadley forgot to stop his watch, which continued through to the early hours of yesterday morning.

But Redmond has more tangible reminders as he starts on the familiar process of recovery. His answering machine back home near Northampton has run out of clear tape, such has been the number of goodwill messages.

Meanwhile, through the mailing system of the all-encompassing Games computer, he received the following letter from a Canadian whom he had never met: 'Derek. Thank you for the amazing memory that we will all take away from Barcelona long after the names of the medallists have faded from our minds . . . I will always remember your race, and will always remember you, the purest and most courageous example of grit and determination I have ever seen.'

Yes, it's Mills and Boon. But it's real too.