- 15 Oct 1968
- Mexico 1968
David Hemery - 400m hurdless men - Athletics
Athletes can easily get caught up in the heat of a moment. They might not know where they are in a race, how many laps are left, what position they're in.
At the end, they might just struggle to know where they've finished, particularly if it's a photo-finish.
David Hemery wasn't sure where he'd finished in the final of the 400m hurdles. He saw a BBC commentator running towards him, holding a microphone, so he asked him what had happened. “Did I win?” said Hemery. Oh yes, he had certainly won.
His winning margin was actually enormous – nearly a full second – but Hemery was so absorbed in his own race that he hadn't been paying attention to what was going on around him. He had been visualising the Olympic final for months, playing out his tactics in his mind, thinking of every possibly scenario. What would he do if it rained? What about if he stumbled? How fast should he go, where should he catch his breath, how should he deal with being at the front, back or midfield?
Hemery had trailed in third place at the start, but was in the lead by the third hurdle. He then accelerated hard, reaching the halfway mark in 23.3secs, which would be fast on the flat, let alone over hurdles.
His lead just grew bigger and bigger until he reached the finishing line some eight metres in front of the second-placed man, the West German Gerhard Hennige, who was 0.9secs adrift. As had happened in several track and field events in Mexico City, Hemery had transformed the race, with a display of technique and speed that set a whole new benchmark. John Sherwood took a Bronze medal, the day after his wife Sheila had won Silver in the Long Jump.
Hemery returned to Olympic competition four years later, where he took a bronze medal in the 400m hurdles and a silver in the 4x400m relay, to finish his career with a complete set – gold, silver and bronze.