Derek Redmond

Derek Redmond was a hugely talented, but desperately unlucky, athlete, whose career was constantly unterrupted by serious injury, often requiring surgery, which prevented him from achieving the success he might otherwise have enjoyed. A specialist 400-metre runner, Redmond twice broke the British record for that distance, running 44.82 seconds at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway in July, 1985 and 44.50 seconds at the IAAF World Championships in Rome, Italy in September, 1987.

The following year, at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Redmond was forced to withdraw from his heat with an Achilles tendon injury. Redmond gained consolation at the IAAF World Championships in Tokyo, Japan in 1991; alongside compatriots Roger Black, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi, he was part of the Great Britain team that beat the hotly-fancied USA team to the gold medal in the men’s 4 x 400-metre relay.

Despite eight operations in the interim, Redmond arrived at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, injury free. He comfortably won his heat, in 45.03 seconds, and his quarter-final, in 45.02 seconds, and was in confident mood when he lined up for his semi-final. However, down the back straight down, just as he appeared to be making serene progress towards his first Olympic final, he heard a pop and, strides later, felt excrutiating pain in his right hamstring. Redmond grabbed the back of his injured leg and fell to the track, his Olympic dreams in tatters.

 

Nevertheless, determined to finish his race, Redmond waved away medical personnel and, slowly, clambered to his feet. Limping painfully, he was joined at the top of home straight by his father, Jim, who had made his way onto the track and helped him hobble, tearfully, to within a few feet of the finish line. With the race long since over, officially, Redmond crossed the line, under his own steam, to rapturous applause.

Frankie Fredericks

Frank ‘Frankie’ Fredericks was born and raised in what is now the national capital of Namibia, Windhoek, in the days before independence, when it was still the territorial capital of South West Africa, under the control of South Africa. Fredericks later reflected that, while living under apartheid, he ‘never even thought about the [Olympic] Games’, but that did not stop him from becoming the first Namibian, man or woman, to win an Olympic medal.

Indeed, from a nation with no athletics pedigree, Fredericks emerged as one of the finest sprinters in history. He won gold medals in the 200 metres at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany and at the 1999 World Indoor Championships in Maebashi, Japan. In 1996, he set an indoor world record over the distance, 19.95 seconds, which has yet to be beaten.

For all his success elsewhere, though, it was on the biggest stage of all, at the Olympic Games, that Fredericks acquired a rather unfair ‘nearly man’ tag. At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he won silver medals in both the 100 metres and 200 metres, finishing second to Linford Christie and Michael Marsh, respectively. At the Atlanta Olympics four years later, Fredericks once again attempted the ‘sprint double’, but had to settle for two more silver medals. He could take cold comfort from the fact that the gold medallists in both events, Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson, set new world records in their respective finals.

Reflecting on his performance, Fredericks said, ‘I think the only race I would like to run over is the 100 metres in Atlanta. I think that was the gold medal that got away.’ He had no such complaint about the 200 metres final, in which Johnson clocked 19.32 seconds, a time bettered only by Usain Bolt.

Youmzain

Like Devon Loch, Youmzain is a racehorse rather than a human being, so the ‘nearly man’ tag should really apply to his trainer, Mick Channon, who saddled him to finish second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp three years running, in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The son of Sinndar – who, coincidentally, won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2000 – was retired from racing, as a seven-year-old, in 2010, having won six of his 32 races and just shy of £3.4 million in total in prize money.

Youmzain won twice at the highest, Group 1 level, capturing the Preis von Europa at Cologne, Germany in September, 2006 and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud at Saint-Cloud, France in June, 2008. However, it was in the ‘Arc’ – the most prestigious, and valuable, race run in Europe – that he went closest to gaining a slice of racing immortality.

Indeed, it was on his first attempt, as a four-year-old, in 2007 that he went closest of all. He arrived at Longchamp on the back of five straight defeats in Group 1 company, including by the reopposing Dylan Thomas on his penultimate start at Ascot, and was consequently sent off a largely unconsidered 66/1 chance. Nevertheless, he finished strongly, from off the pace, to hold every chance in the closing stages and eventually went down by just a head to his old rival.

In 2008, Youmzain once again finished well to get within two lengths of the unbeaten favourite Zarkava and it was a similar story in 2009, when he was beaten a similar margin by another outstanding winner, Sea The Stars. Reflecting on a trio of near-misses, Channon said, ‘He [Youmzain] always came there with a chance, but just had that knack of getting beat in the very best races. If he got to the front he would stop. It was difficult to know quite what to do.’

 

Devon Loch

The first thing to say is that Devon Loch was, of course, a steeplechaser owned by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, so the ‘nearly man’ should, strictly speaking, be his jockey, Richard ‘Dick’ Francis. However, while Devon Loch was, undoubtedly, the unluckiest Grand National loser in history, on the fateful day in March, 1956, when he collapsed within sight of the winning post, Francis was little more than a disconsolate passenger.

Indeed, Francis, who had been Champion Jockey in 1953/54, had safely negotiated all 30 Grand National fences but, inexplicably, with the race at his mercy, Devon Loch fly-jumped into the air and belly-flopped, unceremoniously, to the ground. His nearest pursuer, ESB, ridden by Dave Dick, galloped past to win by ten lengths. Dick later confessed to being a ‘terribly lucky winner’.

Countless theories, none of which are altogether convincing, have been put forward for what happened to Devon Loch. Devon Loch did prick his ears approaching the wings of the Water Jump, which is bypassed on the second circuit, lending some credence to the theory that he was simply overwhelmed by the crescendo of crowd noise. Had he completed the race, he may well have broken the course record, so out-and-out exhaustion, latent circulatory problems and a condition technically known as ‘equine rhabdomyolysis’, or ‘setfast’, are other possibilities.

Granted that Devon Loch collapsed from the back, but appeared unhurt afterwards, Francis was in favour of the latter condition, which causes tightening of the muscles in the hind quarters. It is interesting to note that Devon Loch had, in fact, done the same thing before, sprawling in full flight during a racecourse gallop at Navan on his last piece of work before moving to England in 1951. Whatever happened, his hind quarters temporarily seized, leaving Francis with no option but to dismount and walk away.