Olympic Moments: No 5. David Hemery (Mexico, 1968)
David Hemery: 'I didn't know I had won, let alone beaten the world record'
Continuing our series, David Hemery recalls his 400m hurdles win being such a blur he needed the BBC to tell him he was champion
Tuesday 12 June 2012
I'm not sure what people expect the build-up to an Olympic final to be like, but I don't remember it being that glamorous in Mexico in 1968.
Thirty minutes before the 400m hurdles final was due to begin at Estadio Olimpico Universitario, I was in a room that measured something like 20ft by 12ft. In the middle was a double bench and walking around that was every other runner I'd be competing against in less than an hour's time.
The adrenalin was pumping and I remember it all vividly even today. I also remember being petrified. The world-record holder Geoff Vanderstock, one of the fancied Americans, was there. Then there was the West German athlete Gerhard Hennige, and my compatriot John Sherwood. As I looked around, I knew five of them had run faster than me.
At times like that, I'm quite an introverted person so I just didn't speak to anyone. I lay down with my knees in the air and concentrated on breathing as calmly and deeply as I could. Mexico City is 7,000 metres above sea level and I wanted to get as much oxygen into my lungs as possible.
A few minutes before the start of the race, the runners were all brought out on track. We set our blocks, ran to the first hurdle and waited for it to begin.
I can honestly say as I waited for the gun, I didn't even sense people were watching me. I spent my time trying to visualise every possibility, every kind of variable. For me, it was the obvious thing to do. I'd done a lot of physical practice in the run-up to the race but I'd also tried to mentally rehearse everything that could happen.
When the gun went off, I tried to do what I could to run my own race. I knew I would only have about 30 seconds where I could run flat out so it was all about running as well as possible at 90 per cent capacity. Put simply, I had to relax at some point and I knew that I'd need something left in me for the home straight.
As the race went on, I remember passing Ron Whitney, an American who was on my outside, quite quickly. I then lost sight of John Sherwood, who was in lane eight, at the sixth hurdle. I didn't hear the crowd at all; all I could hear was the footfall of the other runners.
For the last 100m, I was running blind. I couldn't see anyone around me. By the ninth hurdle, I remember thinking how tired I was and for a split-second the thought appeared in my mind that I should slow down. But I blocked that out, this was the Olympic final.
When I crossed the line, I didn't know I'd won. Suddenly I saw Peter Lorenzo, the BBC commentator, running towards me across the track. He shoved a microphone in my hand. My first comment was: "Did I win?"
I had and in a new world-record time of 48.12sec, seven tenths faster than Vanderstock's old mark. It had always been my intention to run a world-record time rather than win the race. Every runner knows you can't control what other people do.
The gold was a fulfilment of a dream come true for me. The pride is individual but at the same time, I could not have done it without my family and coaches.
Dr David Hemery CBE is vice-chair of the British Olympic Association
This series is being run in conjunction with Richard House Children's Hospice, which is based in the Olympic borough of Newham. It caters for children with life-limiting, life-threatening and complex healthcare conditions. To find out more and to vote for your favourite British Olympic moment, visit facebook.com/richardhousech
Radamel Falcao exclusive: Forward says joining Manchester United is a 'dream come true'
Transfer deadline day: The best memes and tweets, featuring Radamel Falcao, Javier Hernandez and Bart Simpson
Radamel Falcao analysis: Manchester United have signed a top talent yet to hit his stride
Danny Welbeck signs for Arsenal: Gunners confirm signing of striker from Manchester United
Radamel Falcao to Manchester United: Louis van Gaal takes transfer spend beyond £140m - SIXTH most of any Premier league manager
- 2 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Cee Lo Green: It is only rape if the victim is conscious
- 5 Nigerian witch-finder Helen Ukpabio threatens legal action against human rights organisations
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain