‘I’ve made a living from a pulled hamstring!’: Derek Redmond on that iconic moment 30 years ago
On his feet or on his wheels, Derek Redmond has always been pretty fast. But he knows he will never outrun that tearful man with the torn hamstring.
Wherever Redmond goes these days, and he tends to reach most corners of the globe, his shadow won’t be far behind, limping on and crying on his father’s shoulder.
“It came up maybe four times last week,” he told Sportsmail. “Five the week before. † † sometimes it’s not just me – other people bring it up too.’
Derek Redmond is helped to the finish of the 400m by his father Jim at the 1992 Olympics
And with that, one of the most iconic figures in Olympic history is a good old laugh. This summer marks 30 years since the ping they heard around the world reverberates today, an injury that transcends circumstances in the most remarkable way.
So much has been said and shown from that moment, about the runner with the broken dream and the father with the broken son, and their arm-in-arm battle to the finish of the 400m at Barcelona 92.
Depending on your point of view, it was the Olympic spirit that became flesh, or something more schmaltzy, but for both the superficial interpretations and the deep ones, it’s best to visit Redmond itself.
‘One of the clips on YouTube has been viewed 90 million times – actually I had a bad leg, mate,’ he says, lying on a sofa in the garden bar of his beautiful home in Northampton.
Damn it, my dad and I were invited to the NBC studios before London 2012. They had the number 3 in the all-time Olympic moments. It was ahead of Mark Spitz’s seven golds in moments of Olympic history and Comaneci’s perfect 10. Barack Obama spoke about it in a speech! A bad leg!’
The arm-in-arm battle to the finish was labeled No. 3 in the All-Time Olympic Moments by NBC
For this lucky 56-year-old, frozen in a grimace by 1,000 montages, it’s all gotten a little amusing over time. As it has been for 80-year-old Jim.
It was also extremely painful, and we’ll get to that, but these days it’s mostly as Redmond describes: ‘I was a man who pulled a muscle and needed his father – now I’m a man who talks about pulling a muscle. and his father needs.
“My mates take the mickey out of me and say I made a living with a hamstring strain. I remember being at an event with Steve Backley (the three-time Olympic javelin medalist) and he said, “When are you going to stop living the same story, Redmond? Move on!” †
And maybe he would, except that some moments are so powerful that they linger.
Redmond talks about bottles and bottles. Before dealing with perseverance and those stories, he discusses the empties attached to the ceiling of his outdoor party space. There are 100 or more old wine bottles up there.
“I didn’t drink all of these,” he says. ‘A few, yes. But we have a bunch of bottle banks, I need to be clear about that.’
This setting is quite something, from the bar with its stocked champagne fridge and crowded spirits shelves to the hot tub and Greek statues to the ‘bigger bar’ inside where the DJ usually performs for parties. Redmond and his wife, Maria Yates, have a good time here, and some of it over the past three decades has been paid for by that hamstring.
“I’ve been speaking for a living for 24 years now and I think I do 100 motivational talks around the world every year,” he says. ‘With 80 of them, you can guess that the hamstring is an important topic of conversation. It’s a big part of my life.’
Most days it’s perfectly cool with it, but there are still times when it bites all these years, which of course adds to why it’s been a moment that lasted: If it wasn’t so important to one person , or even two , it would never have dug this deep for millions of others.
That reminds Redmond of the day that characterizes him, August 3, 1992. A Monday evening. As most will know, Redmond was a fine athlete, a European and World Champion gold medalist in the 4x400m relay.
But by the time he arrived in Barcelona, his individual success had not matched his potential. Worse, the 26-year-old was fraught with the neuroses of eight surgeries, mainly to repair the Achilles tendon that he tore during his warm-up for the heats in Seoul 88. That had dominated his Olympic cycle, but when the Games rolled on, he was finally fit and strong as a favorite for a medal.
“It was meant to be my time,” he says, and it’s a lament that has faded only slightly in the past 30 years.
In the first lap he was the fastest on the field, then he won his quarterfinal. After 150 meters from his semi-final, he was already thinking about what job he could get for the final. That’s when he felt the ping behind his right leg.
“You know, when that happened, the pain was immediate, but it took me a while to realize that everything in my world had gone wrong,” he says.
This summer it’s been 30 years since the Barcelona ping they heard around the world
“Looking back, I stumbled and fell to the floor for 15 seconds. I do the whole “Why me?” but when I first got up, I had this irrational thought that I could catch up with the boys.
“I stumble after them and it’s clearly madness. Soon I realize it’s all over, but I don’t want the Olympics to beat me. It beat me in Seoul because I couldn’t race, but in my head I desperately want to finish this race. So I just kept going.’
After initial confusion in the crowd, a roar went up for Redmond, who was clearly in distress but not yet crying. He would hold it together for a few more jumps, until his father appeared over his left shoulder, after scrambling from his seat in the stadium and dodging security to get to his son. When he caught up with him, Derek wept uncontrollably in his father’s arms.
“The thing about my dad is that he’s always been there for me,” Redmond says. ‘Then and now. I talked to him for an hour yesterday – he doesn’t do interviews anymore, but he always did them with me, just like he was at almost every track meeting I’ve had around the world since I was seven. He saw his son get hurt and he knew this was the end of my world after what happened in Seoul. Good luck preventing him from getting on the track – they obviously tried.
“I told him to just take me back to lane five so I could finish. Papa’s first wish was that I should stop because he thought that days later I might be suitable for the relay. I said, “No”, and he said, “Okay, we’ll end up together”.
“Later he told me that a stadium full of 65,000 people was no place for a family quarrel! He got me on the phone and at that point you don’t think you’ll still be talking about it 30 years later. To be honest, all I felt was that I had failed. I wanted so badly to be an Olympic medalist and all those people cheering me on was no consolation.’
To the applause, he had no idea that he’d just delivered an all-time iconic sporting moment, nor that the emotion of it had sent his pregnant sister home to England to give birth.
In time, there would be a hug from Linford Christie, whom he’d rowed in public the previous year, and among other benefactors, there were kind words from swimmer Sharron Davies. From that first meeting, they would eventually marry from 1994 to 2000.
The former Sprinter showed off his spritzer skills in the garden bar of his home in Northampton
Before the week was up, he had been interviewed by outlets from around the world.
“You know, I’ve obviously put a lot of thought into it,” he says. “I think it’s the interaction with my dad that brings people to the whole thing. For some people, it’s about going through tough times – it’s nice to hear that.
“But the main reason I think it turned out to be a moment is because it’s a father-son relationship. People can join that. It’s a father who just wanted to comfort his son when things were all a bit shit.’
Thirty years later, Redmond finds it easy to be self-deprecating and good-humoured about the time when things were going a little shit, but it was really tough for a while.
“For two years it was very bad,” he says. “I just couldn’t talk about it. I gave my life to get a medal – I made the sacrifices, I was a clean athlete, I was good enough. It hadn’t happened and I actually hated those who got their rewards.
“After those first two years, the next two years I was angry, but I was able to talk about it and talking about it has been my life ever since. I haven’t said this much, but there was a time, possibly up to Tokyo last year, when every British athlete who got an Olympic medal made me jealous. But I haven’t been tormented by it for a long time. Still frustrated? A little. But I am a happy man.’
His agent recently estimated that his lectures have been attended by about a million people over the years. The audience of the videos is much larger.
“I actually thought about buying the rights to it a while ago,” he says. ‘I would have to pay £4,700 per second. The first 200 meters of that race were pretty fast to be honest, but the costs add up when the hamstring breaks.’
He is laughing. Even with his nagging sense of what-ifs, sport has been good for Redmond – athletics aside, he was a national champion in kickboxing and motorcycling, an England international in basketball, a semi-pro in rugby and lately he’s been boxing a decent level. The injury has also worked for him in its own way.
“It’s — talking about it has shaped my life and my life,” he says. ‘But you know what? If I had to trade it all for a medal of any color from those Olympics and total anonymity, with no guarantee I’d make a living, I would.”
Naturally. But he can’t. And as he stretches out in his garden bar on a sunny day, he seems to be getting along pretty well.