By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom_17-11-11Bentley, Derek Redmond’s boxer/Staffordshire crossbreed, doesn’t seem to realise that his owner has just been honoured by none other than the President of the United States.

“Bentley – no!” says that owner as his boisterous but good-natured hound all but dislodges me from my seat.

With Bentley eventually despatched to the living room, Redmond is able to reflect upon the news that he is one of two foreign athletes who have been name-checked by Barack Obama during the President’s speech in support of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Games.

From the South Lawn of the White House, the newly installed US premier spoke of the special place the Games had in people’s psyches, adding: “They’re the sources of fleeting moments – instants, really – that have become permanently seared in our collective memories. The humble victory of Jesse Owens. The perfection of Nadia and Mary Lou. Michael Johnson’s astonishment at his own feat. Derek Redmond and Kerri Strug bravely making it through with a little help.”

Obama’s words clearly paid tribute to Redmond’s famous exploit in the 1992 Olympics. Having broken down with a torn hamstring after 150 metres of his 400 metres semi-final, the British record holder eventually hobbled across the finish line supported by his father Jim, who had rushed down from his seat to help.

“I didn’t have a clue about it until you told me,” he says, perched on a stool in the handsomely stocked bar he has had built into a side room at his house in Hunsbury Hill, near Northampton –  which is just five minutes down the road from where his mum and dad, Jim and Jenny, live. “It’s quite impressive to get a mention from the President of the United States. It’s pretty cool – an honour. At least one of his speech-writers knows who I am!

“For some reason the whole 1992 episode is really big news in America. I get 10 or 15 e-mails every week from people saying how inspiring they found it to watch my Dad and I in Barcelona, and more than half of them come from the States.

“Maybe some people look at the footage and don’t see me as a medal contender, but as someone whose gold medal is just to be at the Olympics, so it’s a bit like Eric the Eel swimming at the Games, where his victory lies just in finishing.

It touched parents hearts

“But the biggest thing about it was the fact that it was a dad who came to protect his son. Every parent can relate to that, to being there for their child. And there are a lot more parents out there than there are Olympians.

“I’ve had people telling me how it has helped them overcome illness, and helped them in their studies. I’ve had kids in Canada writing to say their athletics teams have not been doing well recently but how they have all been determined to go out and improve after watching me. It seems to have touched a lot of people’s lives, and given them a sense of hope.

“I also get a lot of interest from churches. They seem to see what happened in Barcelona as being very significant, especially the fact that it was my dad who was helping me. I have seen them use what happened to signify the relationship between God and Jesus. In fact one church in the States has turned the scene with my dad and me into part of a religious musical!”

derek redmond_11-01-12The spontaneous father-and-son drama that played itself out on the track in Barcelona on August 3, 1992, moved the 65,000 spectators packed into the Montjuic Stadium to gasps of appreciation and a thunderous standing ovation. That applause has resounded down the years, stimulated by regular reminders of what happened on that evening. The incident was the subject of one of the International Olympic Committee’s “Celebrate Humanity” videos. It also featured recently in the ITV programme Great Moments in Sport, and in the United States it formed the basis for one of the episodes of Sixteen Days of Glory, Bud Greenspan’s filmed record of the 1992 Olympics.

Redmond experienced another surge of interest on the eve of last year’s Beijing Games, when Visa used the footage for one of their commercials, with Morgan Freeman, star of films such as Shawshank Redemption and Along Came A Spider, doing the voice-over: “Derek Redmond didn’t finish in first place in the 1992 Olympic 400 metres. He didn’t finish in second, or third, or fourth place. He and his father finished dead last. But he and his father…finished.”

Redmond went into those Games as British record holder with a time of 44.50sec, and looked capable of running even faster to earn a place on the podium. A year earlier at the Tokyo World Championships he had been part of the 400m relay team along with Roger Black, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi which earned a famous victory over the United States. 

But he now acknowledges that the collapse and recovery in Barcelona has come to be his defining moment. It forms a major part of his main work now as a motivational speaker on the corporate circuit, where he regularly addresses both small groups of businessmen from blue chip companies, and larger gatherings – his record audience was the 25,000 who gathered to hear him and others during an event at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre.

“I show the footage of Barcelona,” he says. “I don’t like to watch it myself. But I always know the moment when I stop running because the audience gives this big intake of breath.” 

Redmond’s enormous talent as an athlete was blighted by injury. Although the pulled hamstring which brought him to a temporary standstill in Barcelona did not require an operation, he went under the knife 11 times in an effort to repair his problematic Achilles tendons before giving up the struggle in 1994.

Since then he has been involved in numerous projects involving sport. Having established himself as a personal trainer once he had retired from the track, he branched out into a business designing and equipping gyms.

“I put a lot of the money I had made in athletics into creating a new range of equipment,” Redmond recalls with a wince. “But there were too many big players in that sector and we ended up going under in 1999.”

New speed challenges

At around the same time his marriage to Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies, whom he had met at the Barcelona Games, ended in divorce. Redmond is in regular contact with their two children, Elliott and Grace, now 15 and 11, who live with their mother in Gloucestershire. He now lives with partner Maria and her two children Lucia and Paola. And Bentley. 

Derek Redmon_speaking_11-01-12Redmond has performed a number of media and TV roles since 1992. He was assistant referee to John Anderson during the first four series of TV’s Gladiators, winning the Celebrity Gladiators title in 1994. He also spent a year presenting Channel 4’s basketball programme along with Beverley Turner, and served as a commentator on Eurosport, covering the 2003 World Athletics Championships in Paris.

A growing passion for motorcycle riding culminated this year in his establishing an endurance track racing team with established racer Maria Costello.

Costello/Redmond Racing have been in the forefront of the challenge for the British Endurance Championship in the six-hour and three-hour categories after a series of races at top circuits such as Silverstone.

Two big questions remain after that evening in Barcelona. Firstly, why did the injury happen at that crucial moment? And secondly, why bother to carry on running when it did?

“The best guess I have about why I broke down then is that it was to do with the way I slept the night before,’ he says, toying with the bottle of beer that has been willingly but rather inexpertly opened by Maria. “I did struggle to get comfortable in the single beds at the Olympic village, and my medical advisors think I must have gone to sleep in an awkward position and slightly tilted my pelvis, which made me more likely to run in an unbalanced way.

“Another theory I have heard is that I was simply outrunning my body – it couldn’t cope with how fast I was going. I do feel as though I never fulfilled my potential as an athlete.”

As for that strange instinct to carry on, he still remains faintly baffled by his thought processes at the time. “Part of it was that this wasn’t the first injury I had had at a major championships – I had had to pull out of the 1988 Olympics 400 metres on the eve of my first heat because of my Achilles. I didn’t want another DNS or DNF on my record – although in the end I got a DNF in Barcelona and was disqualified for going out of my lane.

“To be honest, when it first happened it was like the pain you get when you stub your toe – it was agony, but it wore off a bit. I remember looking across and seeing the others had 50 metres left to go, and the thought going through my head was: ‘If I get up now and start running I can still qualify.’

“If you had had a bet with me about it at that moment I would have taken it, even though I still had 250 metres to go. When I reached the 200 metres mark myself I saw they had finished – I knew it was all over.”

But of course, it wasn’t all over. For Derek Redmond, it was just about to start.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

To find out more about Derek Redmond click here.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now freelancing and wrties regularly for insidethegames