BARCELONA, Spain — The son went down as if he had been shot, grabbing his leg, falling to the track. The father, watching from the stands, felt something sink in his stomach. He lowered his head. The memories flashed back: the park, near the old house, the boy, 6 years old, racing alongside him, grabbing his body.
“Where’s the finish line, Dad?” he would say, laughing. “Carry me to the finish line . . .”
The finish line. The noise of the crowd snapped him back to reality. Cheering? What were they cheering? He looked up to see his son, face twisted in pain, rising to his feet on the red oval track, waving off the medics who carried a stretcher. Derek Redmond, a British sprinter whose Olympic dream was over, whose right hamstring had just snapped like a Popsicle stick, was trying to complete his 400-meter race. He had half that distance to go. Because he couldn’t walk, he began to hop. He hopped like a wounded fugitive. One step. A grimace. Two steps. A yell.
The son was crying.
And the father had to come.
He doesn’t really remember all the steps down from section 131, row 22, seat 25. He doesn’t really remember leaping over the railing or landing on the field, or pushing off security guards who were too stunned to stop him. The Olympics? He was not at the Olympics anymore. Jim Redmond was a parent outside a burning house, hearing a cry through the window. And all he knew was “my son, I had to get to him.”
And suddenly, he was alongside him.
“Dad,” Derek said, grabbing him, throwing an arm around his shoulder, and burying his head to hide the tears. “Dad . . . get me back to Lane 5. I want to finish.”
And leaning on each other, just like the old days, father and son made their way down the track, while stunned officials looked on, frozen, and the crowd, and the whole world watching, got this lump in its throat. Heroes just seem to answer the call
You can set the stage for heroism. You can plan your Olympics for maximum exposure, light the skies with fireworks, invite kings and queens and NBA stars. But you can never create the magic of real life. It just happens.
“If I tried to do that again, I don’t think I could,” Jim Redmond would admit after this burst of real life was over Monday night, after he had taken his 26-year-old son where his son wanted to go, across the line, into the finish area, where the medical staff once again came running with a stretcher.
“No stretcher!” the father barked.
He knew what his son wanted. He had been with him all these years, through the good times, when he made the Olympic team, when he set the British record in the 400, and through the bad times, the four operations on his Achilles tendon, the countless other injuries that left him on crutches, unable to run as late as six weeks before these Games.
“Derek’s pride was at stake out there. If he had been taken out on a stretcher he would never have run again. We had agreed, no matter what, that he was going to finish the race. He was going to say he got through the semifinal of the Olympic 400 meters.
“All he needed was a little support. I’m his father. I’m supposed to provide it.”
And so he did. And when he was sure his son was OK, when the hamstring had been iced and wrapped and the tears had dried, Jim Redmond made his way back to his seat, stopping to apologize to every official along the way, because, “I didn’t want the British to get a bad name for disrupting the Olympics . . .” Redmond & Son, together again
You couldn’t make up a story like this. Back in North Hamptonshire, in the small village they call home, Redmond’s wife, daughter and son-in-law were watching this whole drama on TV. The daughter, nine months pregnant, saw her brother crying in agony, then saw her father, filling up the screen with his heavy-set form, the crowd rising to applaud him — Dad? On the track? — and, apparently, this was all too much. She felt this sudden spasm. Next thing you know, the doctor was at the door, ready to deliver a baby . . .
As it turned out, that was a false alarm. But the idea was wonderfully real. Right here, in the middle of an Olympics that is weighted down with commercialism, sagging with drug rumors, fighting its own largess, here we have a plain old family in a plain old town that seems so tied into one another, when one feels pain, the other twinges. And goes to help.
Even if it means leaping onto the Olympic track.
“In an emergency,” Jim Redmond said, “you don’t need accreditation.”
He is almost 50 years old. Two decades ago, he started a business he still owns. A machinery shop called “J. Redmond & Sons.”
“I had hoped Derek would take over, but he has other ideas. That’s OK. He’s a good kid. He keeps my name clean. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Or more than this, maybe the best story of the 1992 Games. Like most Olympians, Derek Redmond came here dreaming of gold, the fantasy, the end of the rainbow. Instead, he got his own back yard. Here they were again, arm in arm, headed for a finish line; J. Redmond & Son, together as usual.
Come to think of it, what could be more golden?