Leaning on dad, Redmond gives us event to embrace

MIKE LITTWIN

August 05, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

BARCELONA, Spain -- An ordinary man awakens to find himself a hero. Derek Redmond says he's a little embarrassed by all the attention. We smile. We like our heroes humble.

It is the morning after, and Redmond, whose dramatic, three-minute family tour of the Olympic Stadium has become the defining moment of these Olympics, is insisting he did what any runner would have done. He fell, he got up. He finished the race, even if hobbling on one leg. Where we see courage, he wants to invoke a competitor's will.

And even if it were that simple, it would be enough.

Here.

Now.

These Olympics needed Derek Redmond. They especially needed Derek Redmond's dad, who ran from the stands onto the track, brushed away security, grabbed his son and nursed him over the last 100 meters to the finish line. The son, barely able to continue, leaned on his dad, his face buried into his neck. And, as they approached the end, the father whispered to the son: "We started your career together. We will finish this race together."

He did what every parent would want to do for his child. If you're a father, or if you've ever had one, the moment leaves you breathless.

We needed this moment. These Olympics needed something to remind us why we're here, and that it can't be only to sell shoes or to be left wondering which athletes are primed by which performance-enhancing drugs. Yesterday, a Chinese volleyball player was bounced for using strychnine -- rat poison.

We needed an antidote to the excesses here, and the Redmonds, in full view of the camera, provided it for us.

Linford Christie, the 100-meter champion and Redmond's fellow Briton, would tell him that night, "That's the bravest thing I've ever seen anyone do."

Actually, there have been many braver acts. There may even have been more touching ones, although none comes immediately to mind. The point is that at the Olympics, everything becomes outsized. One day, Gail Devers isn't known outside the track and field world; the next, her medical history becomes Page 1 news. If a gymnast tumbles, a nation sighs. The state of the swim team -- or the living conditions of the Dream Team -- is debated in living rooms across America.

But with this small moment, we see a grown father, 49, and grown son, 26, in painful embrace, and we all recognize the pain and the embrace. I wonder how many children reached for the phone to call a parent that night.

Maybe you saw the race. It was the first heat of the 400 meters, and Redmond, running in Lane 5, made it about 150 meters before grabbing his right hamstring. This was the latest athletic mishap to befall him. In the previous Olympics, he was forced to withdraw minutes before his heat because of a sore Achilles' tendon. Four times in the past five years, he has had surgery performed on his Achilles'.

"To say it's been five years is to say it too quickly," he said. "It's five times 365 days a year. It's 24 hours a day."

When the hamstring popped, Redmond stumbled and sank to one knee. He cradled his head and looked up to see the rest of the field. His first thought was, he said, "I can still catch them."

And so, he struggled to his feet and began to hobble. Meantime, his father, Jim, seated next to his son's coach, also acted instinctively. He had to help his son. A burly man, he moved quickly through the seats and over the fence onto the track. A security man stepped between him and Derek, but not for long. The father put his right arm around the son's waist and held his left wrist with his left hand, and they began their duet of pain.

The father looked away one green-blazered security guard and then another. Above all, his son was going to finish the race.

At one point, the pain became too much. Derek stopped, his face contorted, and he began to cry on his father's shoulder. But, after a few moments and a few words from his father, Derek continued. And he finished the race. On the official sheet, it says "AB" for abandoned. Hardly. A day later, Derek says he finished eighth, which was the point of the exercise.

Back home in Northampton, where the Redmonds live, Derek's sister, Karen, was watching on the telly. She is nine months pregnant, and when she talked to Derek later Monday night, she told him that the excitement caused her to go into labor.

His mother would say she hadn't seen him cry like that since he was 6 and they wouldn't give him the bike he wanted.

But the emotion wasn't limited to a few British households. The Olympic eye made Redmond a worldwide story, calling up "Chariots of Fire" and every parent's love for a child. The picture of father and son together is the one we'll take from these Olympics.

Redmond released a message he received on the Olympic computer system from a Canadian TV journalist that might have come from anyone. Cue the music, please:

"Thank you for the amazing memory that we will all take away from Barcelona. . . . Long after the names of the medalists have faded from our minds, you will be remembered for having finished, for having tried so hard, for having a father to demonstrate the strength of his love for his son. I thank you, and I will always remember your race and I will always remember you -- the purest, most courageous example of grit and determination I have seen. My hat goes off to you, Mr. Redmond."

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