Olympic Stories

David Hemery - Athleticism at it's Finest

David Hemery - Athleticism at it's FinestDavid Hemery catapulted to fame when he won the 400 meter hurdles at the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City. This was no ordinary accolade since he had created a brilliant new world record, with the margin of victory being the largest since 1924; that too by a thrilling one second win over silver-medalist Gerhard Hennige from Germany. The fact that his time of 48.12 seconds is as good as the accomplishments of more recent Olympians speaks volumes about his caliber.

Born on July 18, 1944 in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, David Peter Hemery moved with his family to Boston, United States of America owing to a change in his father’s place of work. This is where he attended school and spent six years of his youth, following which he went back to England when he was eighteen years of age.

He began with a career in banking but soon had to put an end to it in 1964 when he returned to Boston, and later graduated from the Boston University in 1969. This is where track coach Billy Smith, along with the help of English coach Fred Housden, developed Hemery into the athletic star that he was to be. The valuable inputs of these two men put together with sheer hard-work and determination made him achieve all that he has in life.

The Olympic medal was not the first international acclamation he had received for his athletic talent. His first international title came at the Commonwealth Games held in 1966, where he won the 120 yard hurdles. He retained this title for four years and reset his own record at the 1970 Commonwealth Games (the event had transformed into the 110 meter hurdles by then).

He also won the NCAA championships in 400 meter hurdles in the year 1968. Following his win at the Olympics, his fan following had increased to such a level that he was voted BBC television’s Sports Personality of the Year 1968.

In 1969, Hemery came second at the European Championships in the 110 meter hurdles; he, however, could not take part in the next of this series of events in 1971 owing to an injury. His attempts to defend his title at the 1972 Summer Olympics held at Munich did not succeed when he finished third, defeated by Akii-Bua from Uganda and Ralph Mann from the United States. He was also part of the 4x400 meter relay team that won the silver medal at the Summer Olympics. He retired from international competition soon after and transformed into a professional.

Towards the decline of his track and field career, Hemery worked as a coach in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom. In 1969 he was conferred with the prestigious Member of the Order of the British Empire. For a brief period in the 1970s, he taught at the famous English Sports School in Millfield. In 1973, he won the first ever British Superstars competition, and went on to repeat this in 1976.

He also wrote his autobiography ‘Another Hurdle’ in 1976. Subsequently, he has written several books on motivation and performance, including the book titled ‘Sporting Excellence’. He is of the firm belief that each and every individual has in him or her, the substance that make stars – it is just that one needs to realize this and hone these innate abilities.

This, he has made the theme of one of his most recent publications ‘How to Help Children Find the Champion Within Themselves’. One of the endorsements he has made is towards the publication ‘The Attitude Book’. He has also been noted time and again for his vehement opposition of the abuse of drugs to enhance performance in sporting events.

At the age of 54, he went on to become the first elected President of UK Athletics in 1998, beating four other nominees including fellow Olympic champion Steve Ovett and Sir Eddie Kulukundis; he held this post till the year 2002. This four-year tenure was, however, marked by controversy owing to the number of top British athletes who were found to be victims of drug abuse. He was awarded a Commander of the British Empire title in this year too.

He is also an Executive member of the British Olympic Association. He has been functioning in the roles of coach, performance consultant, teacher, and writer and is actively into management training for more than the past decade. Now 58, he conducts his own business management courses and doesn’t forget the upkeep of his fitness regimen while leading a quiet life at his home in Wiltshire.

David can be counted as an official 'Superstar' after winning the BBC TV show twice, but the glory hasn't gone to his head. Far from it, David has gone on to found 21st Century Legacy which is a charity to inspire young people to develop their potential to the full.

This is delivered through a schools programme and delivered by a host of Olympians, including David himself who remains actively involved. He carried the torch in London 2012 through Royal Wootton Bassett.

Career Highlights
  • 1972 Munich Olympic Games – Silver, Bronze
  • 1968 Mexico Olympic Games – Gold
  • 1969 European Championships – Silver

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