At the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City, England’s David Hemery obliterated a class field to win the 400m hurdles in a time of 48.12secs. The fact that a time of 48.12secs would almost certainly guarantee a place in an Olympic final now, gives some indication of the significance of his performance.
Remarkably, Hemery only ever contested the 400m hurdles during four competitive seasons – in 1965, in 1966, in his world-record beating 1968 and then stayed away until 1972. Rarely has an individual made such an impact on an event or events that they hadn’t given total devotion to (think Bob Beamon or Michael Johnson), yet Hemery’s lack of competition experience was compensated for by a fine grasp of technique.
Born in Gloucestershire, Hemery spent six years of his youth in Boston, USA, returning to England at the age of 18. A career in banking was put on hold in 1964, when Hemery returned to Boston to attend University, where track coach Billy Smith, along with the work of English coach Fred Housden, helped Hemery to develop a technical ability second-to-none. The discipline and application though, were all his.
In 1972, an Olympic bronze in the 400m hurdles and a silver in the 4x400m relay, called time on a distinguished career on the track, but he continued in athletics, both in the UK and the USA as a coach and performance consultant.
He was awarded the MBE in 1969 and in 1998, when Athletics turned fully professional, Hemery was elected as the first president of UK Athletics.
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