OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Redmond's day of despair: Ken Jones on a poignant end for Britain's 400m hope

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The Independent Online
THE only thought in Derek Redmond's mind was to finish. If it meant crawling across the line he was going to get there. Crippled by a hamstring injury along the back straight of a 400 metres semi-final, Redmond regained his feet, the painful limp soon becoming a pathetic hop.

Realising Redmond's intention, the crowd rose to him, warmly applauding every painful step of his progress. For Jim Redmond it was time to move. Setting off from a seat up near the Olympic flame, he was determined to reach his son.

Nobody was going to stop him, none of the officials who tried to stand in his way, no cop. 'You don't need a badge in an emergency,' he would say. 'I just wanted to be with the boy.' Jim Redmond, 49, a burly man in a white T-shirt and blue cap, made it over the barriers and on to the track, cuddling his son, wiping away the tears, bringing him home in an embrace.

Nobody could recall the Olympics providing a more poignant moment. It was the end for an athlete who had given all, posting such an impressive time in his heat that plenty of people fancied him for a medal.

'If there is such a thing as a before-life, I must have been a rat bastard,' he said afterwards, the emotion now under control, 'because so much crap has happened to me in this life.'

Over the last four years Redmond has undergone five operations, four to correct an Achilles problem that forced him to withdraw minutes before being called to the line at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Everything was going well and then the jinx struck again.

'I heard it pop, felt the tug,' he said. 'I stood on the track, I was confused, and didn't know what was going on. Then it came to me that this was the Olympic semi-final. I looked across and saw the runners and knew that I had to try and finish.'

The Redmonds had a pact. 'We had an agreement that Derek would finish,' his father said. 'I knew that was in his mind when he started to hobble. This is his last Olympics, eight years of trying and now this.'

In the space of half an hour you could see every sporting emotion on show at the Montjuic stadium on a height above Barcelona. Redmond's despair. The triumph etched on Ellen van Langen's face when she won a gold medal for the Netherlands at 800m. The disappointment quietly registered by Roger Black when he failed to qualify for the 400m final.

For Black it was the wrong place and the wrong time. Troubled by an injury, he was beaten for the fourth qualifying place by David Grindley, at 19 the second youngest member of the British team. Grindley, who has played rugby league for the Wigan youth team, could hardly believe that he had made the final. 'I was only here for experience,' he said, 'thinking mostly about 1996. Getting into the semi-finals was everything that I could hope for. But the final? That's something else. Just being out there with all those great runners.'

Black, sitting a few yards back from the barrier where Grindley spoke, was changing his shirt and shoes, a look of resignation on his face. Every now and again Black shook his head. 'It wasn't right,' he said, a little stunned.

Sympathetic looks were cast at Black and when he saw Mike Whittingham, his coach, he shrugged. You see, for some of them, the Olympics becomes a bad experience made worse in seclusion by a distant roar and triumphant melody.

For Derek Redmond there was only the pain in his thigh and a father's comforting embrace. But he'd done his damnedest to finish and had the consolation of knowing that a noble effort will be a long time going from our minds.

(Photograph omitted)

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