This picture remains the perfect expression of fatherly love – Jim Redmond did his boy proud

Derek Redmond of Great Britain (left) is aided by his father Jim Redmond - This picture remains the perfect expression of fatherly love – Jim Redmond did his boy proud - GETTY IMAGES
Derek Redmond of Great Britain (left) is aided by his father Jim Redmond - This picture remains the perfect expression of fatherly love – Jim Redmond did his boy proud - GETTY IMAGES

It was, perhaps, the most beautifully humane thing ever witnessed on an athletics track: Jim Redmond tenderly draping an arm over the shoulders of his stricken son, Derek, and helping him hobble to the finish line in a 400 metres semi-final.

As the Olympic Games acknowledged, in a tweet issued to mark Jim’s death on Sunday at the age of 81, “together they brought us one of the most inspirational moments in Olympic history”. Ironic, then, that at the time the Olympics’ own officials did their level best to prevent it happening.

Back in 1992, Jim Redmond was a successful butcher, with a meat-processing company in Northampton, who travelled the world following Derek’s athletic progress. He made his way to the Barcelona Olympics confident that he might see his son atop the podium. Indeed, Redmond qualified for the semi-finals with the fastest time in the heats. As the race begins he quickly gets into his stride; by 250 metres, he is in full, glorious flow, easing ahead of the other runners around him.

Then suddenly, as if hit by sniper fire from the stands, his hamstring tears. As his rivals head away, he pulls up in pain, clutching the back of his thigh. He knows his Olympic dream is over. But deciding he is going to finish the race come what may, he starts hopping to the line.

It is a forlorn sight, perfectly articulating the thin boundary every athlete patrols between glory and misery. The television cameras remain on Redmond as he stumbles on, his bravery writ large across the screen. Then, stepping out of the stands onto the track, brushing off a marshal bristling at his lack of an appropriate lanyard, Jim emerges into the picture.

Wearing a cap, sponsor’s T-shirt and blue running shorts, he quickly catches up with his son and grasps his hand as the lad staggers on. Redmond later disclosed that his father had initially tried to talk him out of exacerbating his injury by walking on to the line. On the footage, you can see Jim speaking to him, saying “You’ve nothing to prove”.

Derek Redmond of Great Britain is helped towards the finish line by his father after suffering an injury in the 400m semi-final at the Barcelona Olympic Games in Spain - Getty Images
Derek Redmond of Great Britain is helped towards the finish line by his father after suffering an injury in the 400m semi-final at the Barcelona Olympic Games in Spain - Getty Images

But almost as he utters those words, he seems to recognise the significance of his son’s attempt. We see him in the footage pulling Redmond’s arm around his shoulder and helping him up towards the line. As they advance, Jim twice shooing off blazer-clad officials in no uncertain terms, Redmond becomes increasingly distraught. He buries his head in his father’s shoulder, his emotions pouring forth. Jim responds by patting him gently on the chest, a physical sign of his pride in the boy, undiminished by his injury.

By now, the pair are surrounded by camera crews, recognising the power of the story unfolding. As they near the line, Jim takes his by now inconsolable son’s arm in his hand and raises it to the crowd. The ovation in response resounds through the stadium.

He may have been in last place, way behind those heading for the final. But by finishing, Redmond delivers a magnificent statement of intent: nothing – not even his leg ceasing to work – was going to stop him crossing that line. As he later acknowledged, he could not have done it without his father.

Thirty years on, it remains footage capable of reducing the most stone-hearted to tears. Pain and pride, solidarity and sympathy, a determination to be there for his boy, it is intense paternal support, the exemplar of fatherly love.

And to think none of it would have happened had Jim Redmond bowed to that Olympic steward’s insistence that he could not, under any circumstances, go on to the track.