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AS the countdown to London 2012 reaches its climax, we take a look at West London's Olympic legacy - whether through Olympians from the area, or those who have had a lasting impact on it. Today, with five days left, as Don Taylor looks back at the dashing blonde from Hillingdon who gave Britain a then-rare athletics gold in 1968.
“AND who cares who’s third – it doesn’t matter,” screamed a delirious David Coleman as Great Britain claimed its solitary athletics gold in the 1968 Olympics.
Actually, it did, because a second back in the 400m hurdles final was one of just three other GB athletes to medal in the rarefied air of Mexico City.
John Sherwood had won bronze as the legendary BBC commentator later discovered to his embarrassment, but the golden boy of the moment was Hillingdon’s David Hemery.
It was a time when past British glories were just that, and Coe, Ovett and Thompson were 12 years in the future. So, the world-record win for the dashing blonde west Londoner was just what the doctor ordered.
Hemery’s 48.1 seconds was followed by bronze in the same event at the 1972 Games in Munich and he completed a full set of Olympic medals with silver in the 4x400 metres relay.
Throw in the Commonwealth Games sprint hurdles titles in Jamaica in 1966 and Edinburgh in 1970 and silver in the 1966 European Games 110 metres hurdles - and a fair bit of Brasso is needed to keep them shiny at home in Marlborough where he now lives.
Unsurprisingly, Hemery became the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in ‘68, and after retirement in 1972 was twice winner of the popular BBC Superstars competition. In 1983 he became Past Masters Superstar champion. He has an MBE and a CBE, and between 1988 and 2002 was President of UK Athletics. Currently he is vice chairman of the British Olympic Association.
But the first line of a glittering CV was written way back. Hemery remembers joining Hillingdon Athletic Club: “I was 18 and living in Northwood with my family and my dad thought I had some athletic ability so took me to the nearest club, Ruislip and Northwood AC at Kings College Fields.
“He asked a Miss Hill, a walking judge and one of the organisers, "Is there a hurdles coach here?”
He was directed to the Hurlingham Park track in Fulham, and after a few runs over the hurdles, potential was recognised and Hemery linked up with top-class coach Fred Housden, who became a life long adviser and friend.
Hemery spent time in the USA where he met coach Billy Smith. Hemery said: “Billy and Fred were great foils for each other with Billy ensuring I was in good physical condition and Fred using his exceptional technical knowledge.
“It was a great feeling of euphoria to achieve every athlete’s dream. I also felt considerable relief I had not blown it and let people down, but still asked, why me? I was not favourite.
“Two Americans had times three and five tenths of a second faster. I proved under pressure I could up my game and won by almost a second.
“That question prompted me in my final degree to find answers to, ‘what makes an achiever?” The study became a book called ‘Sporting Excellence.’
Even further back, the seaside also provided an unlikely starting block. Hemery said: “Before I was 10, I used to run with Dad over wooden breakwaters at Frinton-on-Sea where I then lived.
“Once I ran at full speed across concrete slabs behind beach huts even though there were 15-inch gaps every 10 feet. If I’d missed my stride I could have broken my leg. Perhaps even then I was practising stride pattern rhythm which helped me later.”
However, the most memorable experience was as part of the winning GB team bidding for this summer’s Olympics. Hemery remembered one of the promises made in Singapore at the bid process that London 2012 would be an inspiration to British youth and the rest of the world.
As a result, he established the Charity 21st Century Legacy and has put together a programme called ‘Be the Best You Can Be.’
“We challenge young people to follow their dreams,” he added. “An Olympian or Paralympian speaks at a school and young people are taken through a couple of terms of how to get the best out of themselves.”
A bit like the man himself did in Britain's wee small hours back in 1968.
Although Hemery was born July 18, 1944, he gets a very special greeting card once a year on a different date. Coach Smith never forgets to send one each October 15 – a date the Hillingdon sporting legend is never allowed to forget.
Don Taylor from West Drayton held the Great Britain 10,000m record from 1963 to 1965 and was ranked fourth in the world at 3,000m during the same time.