‘It’s not over. I’ll keep racing until the legs fall off’

AS HIS fellow competitors headed for the changing rooms, Ireland’s 200m sprinter Paul Hession lingered on the track for a while watching himself on one of the giant screens which hang in this vast Bird’s Nest Stadium.

His actions were not borne out of vanity, or from a facile hope that the video re-runs would produce a different result than the fifth place he had recorded moments earlier.

Denied of an Olympic final spot by millimetres, Hession wasn’t concerned with what could have been. Instead the Athenry man wanted to remember these scenes and the journey that brought him here, and how he mixed it with some of the fastest men in the world.

“I had a great time,” he smiled. “I said I’d enjoy every minute of it because it does not come around too often. After the race, I went down on my honkers on the track and watched the race. I looked up at the crowd. There are 91,000 people there but you don’t really see them until you have finished.”

Just .13 seconds was the difference between lining up alongside the likes of speedster Usain Bolt tonight and watching the finals from the stands. There were some regrets with his time of 20.38 — .08 outside his PB and national record — but very few.

“What can you do?” he wondered rhetorically. “I’ve tried so hard but I haven’t made it. I’m the number two European, a metre off the final against the best Jamaicans and Americans in the world. So I can’t be too disappointed. I haven’t messed up.”

Hession didn’t have the most explosives of starts in yesterday’s semi-final and was fifth into the bend. He tried desperately to reel in Christian Malcolm, but the British man held out to take fourth in a season best 20.25, behind Olympic 100m bronze medallist Walter Dix (20.19); Brian Dzingai (20.17) and winner Churandy Martina (20.11) of the Netherlands Antilles. Bolt led home the other semi in 20.09, jogging the final 15 metres, before his mandatory post race showboating. Like Malcolm, fourth man home, Kim Collins, recorded 20.25.

Hession felt the race worked out exactly as he had expected – well, bar his fifth place finish.

“It was a six-horse race between the four that qualified, plus me and Chris Williams. But Christian Malcolm had the extra gear that Chris and I didn’t have. Christian ran a stormer. I’ve hammered him during the year and he just got better with every race. I think his injury troubles are behind him for the first time in years.

“I think he is just finding his groove again and he found it at just the wrong time for me!

“It is hard to judge compared to Monday night. Generally most of the race was a touch down (on the previous night), a tiny, tiny fraction off and I was fifth off the bend where I hoped to be fourth. Then it tightened up. Its okay, it is far from a disaster. I got my peaking right — it is just that I am not as strong as these guys.

“I have clearly improved. I’ve come onto another level. It has probably come a year too early. It was a good championship for me. I knew 20.25 would probably make it and it did from both heats. I didn’t have that extra gear. But considering my problems in the past with rounds and that, I did really well.”

Hession, who has stalled his medical studies in NUI Galway, believes the 200m are at their most competitive in history.

“This is the Olympics. These are the best sprinters in the world. 20.25 making a final. We haven’t seen that ever maybe. 20.29 didn’t even make it. In Athens, 20.56 made the final. The event has moved on, and hopefully I move on as well over the next few years, and maybe the next time I can make the final.”

The fastest Irish man in sprint history and holder of every record from 60m to 200m insisted the Olympics have been a huge success, despite his failure to make the final: “I’ve run 20.3 twice. Maybe next time I can run 20.2 twice.”

Word had reached Beijing that all of Athenry came to a standstill for Hession’s appearance on one of the sprinting world’s most sacred stages.

“Parts of me hope it is big,” he said of the anticipation and reaction on home shores which he knew nothing of. “Athletics needs it. It is a huge sport but sometimes it is not big enough in our country. So any chance you have to advertise it is great.”

There will be little time for rest. He is already planning a run in Gateshead on Sunday week, and talks of adding a few more 100m to his 2009 portfolio. But he would not want it any other way.

“It is not over. I just love racing. I’ll keep racing until the legs fall off.”

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