Hession's metre from immortality
Published 20/08/2008 | 09:45
One metre. That was all that stood between Paul Hession and athletics history last night and all, ultimately, that he came up short by in his magnificent effort to make an Olympic 200m final.
And if you agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson's great take on immortality -- "higher than the question of our duration is the question of our deserving" -- then you had to feel for him.
But Ireland's fastest man could only finish fifth in his historic Olympic semi-final, an agonising one place away from immortality.
On a suffocating night (29 degrees and 57pc humidity) in the Bird's Nest, he stepped into his lane five blocks knowing he'd have to break his Irish record (20.30) but came up with 20.38, six hundredths slower than in his semi-final season-best.
He'd actually have needed 20.25 to make history because that was what nicked fourth place in both semi-finals in the fastest qualifying times ever.
"I think I got my peaking right, I'm just not as strong as these guys and this is the Olympics, these are the best sprinters in the world and, like, 20.25 making the final, we haven't seen that before," said Hession once he'd got his breath back.
"20.29 didn't even make it. In Athens, 20.56 made the final, but the event has moved on and hopefully I can move on again over the next few years and maybe next time can make the final," reflected the quiet-spoken 25-year-old from Athenry.
The real surprise was that it was Britain's Christian Malcolm, a former World junior 100/200m champion who he's beaten all season, that nicked fourth place ahead of him by running his second season-best in a row.
"Yeah, I expected the other three to qualify and the last place to be between me, Chris Williams (Jamaica) and Christian, and he ran a stormer, I couldn't believe it," Hession admitted.
"I've hammered Christian during the year but he ran a great bend and he's just got better with every race. I think his injury troubles are finally behind him, he's finding his groove again for the first time in years.
"He's found it just at the wrong time for me," Hession grinned ruefully.
The Jamaican behind him (Williams) is a former world silver medallist. The man who just nicked fourth in the other semi-final (won by a cruising Usain Bolt in 20.09) was former world champion Kim Collins.
That's how tough it was and in whose company 'Cool Hand Hession' is now a respected peer.
So he appeared not to be devastated, or at least not publicly.
"I've clearly improved and come on another level. This has probably come a year too early but it was a good championship for me," he said.
"I knew 20.25 would probably make it, and it did from both heats, but I just didn't have that extra gear and I was moving up a class again," he pointed out.
"Generally I think I was just a touch down most of the race. It was just a tiny, tiny fraction, but I was fifth off the bend, where I'd hoped to be fourth maybe, and then tightened up."
At its end, he took it all in. Hunkered down on the track, watched the video replay and scanned the huge throng around him, deservedly savouring the moment that will surely come his way again.
All of Ireland may have been swooning at the start but Hesssion appears to have the ice in his veins required from all top sprinters.
"I was absolutely loving it," he grinned. "I had a great time out there, I said I'd enjoy every minute of it because it doesn't come around very often. There's 91,000 people there but you don't really see them until you finish."
"Yeah, I suppose so because how close can you be, one place? But I couldn't do any more. I've improved and improved this year. I ran 20.3 twice here, and maybe next time I can run 20.2 twice," Hession said.
"I've tried so hard and haven't made it but I'm the number two European here, a metre off the final against the best Jamaicans and Americans so, I can't be too disappointed," he said. "I haven't messed up, I've just been a metre short."
The good news for his huge new Irish audience is that he's not quite finished yet this season either, continuing on the Grand Prix circuit, -- starting with Gateshead on Sunday week -- because "I just love racing".