Sports is about moments and the images created by those moments. Some moments stay for lifetime and the images created by them go beyond that. They transcend beyond disciplines.
Had it not been the case, Derek Redmond would not be the subject of International Olympic Committee’s ‘Celebrate Humanity’ videos. Redmond became almost synonymous with Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Redmond did not win any medal at the Olympics though. Yet he was the one who gave us one of the most memorable images of Olympic history.
In the semi-final of 400 meters, Redmond started well, but about 250 meters from the finish, his hamstring snapped. He hobbled to a halt, and fell to the ground wincing in pain. Stretcher bearers came to pick him, but Redmond wanted to finish the race. He hobbled along the track. His father, Jim Redmond, barged past security on to the track. Jim and Derek completed the lap of the track together, as Derek leaned on his father’s shoulder for support. As they crossed the finish line, the entire stadium rose to give Derek a standing ovation.
As he was assisted to finish line, Redmond was registered in Olympic records as: “Did Not Finish” the race. But that gave us an image for lifetime. The pictures of father and son splashed across newspapers and magazines across the world. That’s the power of images. The moments that describe the spirit of sports…
One doesn’t have to be world beater to provide those moments. Nepal’s long distance athlete Bhupendra Silwal cannot be bracketed as a world class athlete. Yet, he has provided us with the most memorable picture ever captured of a Nepali sportsman.
It was the summer of 1958 in Tokyo and the festival was Asian Games. Silwal had to run barefoot, as he was not given any shoes to run. An army man with limited means, he followed the orders. It was the spirit he showed, that prompted Japanese women watching him run to splash water on his feet. The picture with a Japanese woman spraying water on his bare feet tells us a story that can never be explained in words. Silwal finished the race at seventh position, thanks to affection shown by the hosts and indomitable spirit he had.
“Doctor had a difficult time, taking out coal tar and pieces of stones from my feet,” The 78-year old remembers his race. The pain of that race still endures.
Most sports lovers would be sorry to know that such an athlete was never cared for by the state. In some ways his story is like a Greek tragedy, where tragic outcome is an inevitable result of the key character’s personal flaws. His flaw was, he chose sports, rather than a career in army. Choosing sports as a career meant he was ‘doomed’ to disaster. It’s a different thing that he was asked to ‘choose’ sports.
When he was selected ’64 Olympics – along with Ganga Bahadur Thapa to become the first Olympians for Nepal – he ran ahead of Abebe Bikila, the eventual champion at one point. But he had to give up marathon 7 kilometers before finish line, as his hamstring snapped. What could have been a swansong came to an abrupt halt.
It was only fitting that he was given ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, at the Pulsar Sports Award by Nepal Sports Journalists Forum (NSJF). Silwal never won a medal at international stage, but gave us moment which has lasted for generations.
It is heartening that Silwal is set to be present at the London Olympics, if he’s not denied visa. He might want to visit the Marathon route once, even as he is approaching 8th decade of his life. It could be a moment too nostalgic for him though. So close, yet so far.
It is only fitting that he is visiting the Games where Jim Redmond, Derek’s father, is one of the torchbearers. For both of them have given us moments worth cherishing for life…
PS: This write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s weekly Column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 7 July, 2012