At our Academic Prize-Giving in 2019, I stated that: “We need to be very careful that our understandable desire to protect and encourage doesn’t translate into responses which actually have the effect of saying that a B or a C grade is a failure; that to be in a set other than the Top Set is indicative of a problem and, dare I say it on an occasion such as this, that NOT winning a prize tonight renders all other achievements in the year as negligible.
In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, American athlete Quincy Watts ran the 2nd fastest time ever at that time, to win the Gold medal in the men’s 400m in a blistering 43.71s – I would like to equate Quincy Watt’s time to a highly talented maths student who obtained an A+ in his final matric examinations.
However, this performance was overshadowed by British athlete Derek Redmond. You may ask, how can another athlete’s performance be superior to that of your gold medal winner? Derek Anthony Redmond (born 3 September 1965) was a British athlete, who during his career held the British record for the 400 meters sprint, and won gold medals in the 4x400 meters relay at the World Championships and European Championships.
However, injuries consistently interrupted Redmond's career. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, he pulled out of the opening round of the 400 meters 90 seconds before his heat because of an injury to his Achilles tendon. Before the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, he had undergone eight operations due to injuries.
Redmond was in good form by the time of the Barcelona Olympics. He posted the fastest time of the first round and went on to win his quarter-final. In the semi-final, Redmond started well, but in the back straight about 250 meters from the finish, his hamstring tore. He hobbled to a halt and then fell to the ground in pain. Stretcher-bearers made their way over to him, but Redmond decided he wanted to finish the race. He began to hobble along the track.
He was soon joined on the track by his father, Jim Redmond, who barged past security and on to the track to get to his son. Jim and Derek completed the lap of the track together, with Derek leaning on his father's shoulder for support. As they crossed the finish line, the crowd of 65,000 spectators rose to give Derek a standing ovation. However, as his father had helped him finish, Derek was officially disqualified and Olympic records state that he "Did Not Finish" the race.
Even though Derek Redmond did not finish and never won an Olympic medal, his struggle in the 1992 semi-final became the subject of one of the International Olympic Committee's "Celebrate Humanity" videos, which proclaimed: "Force is measured in kilograms. Speed is measured in seconds. Courage? You can't measure courage". Redmond and his father finished dead last, but he and his father finished"!
It is very nice to win prizes and we are incredibly proud of our prize-winners, our gold medalists, but let’s be clear, if you link motivation to winning prizes in life, you set yourself up for disappointment. A B or a C grade is not a failure; it’s a work in progress - Because the greatest prize of all is when you can look yourself in the eye and say, ‘I tried my absolute best’ – Derek Redmond most certainly did!