As Dean Macey approached the finish of the 1500m, the final decathlon event in the Hexham Combined Events International, he stretched both of his arms wide as if to say to the band of spectators, fellow-athletes and coaches who were standing to applaud him: "What more could I have done?"
His last-ditch attempt for Olympic selection had foundered on one injury too many as the Beijing A standard qualifying score of 8,000 points (and, ultimately, the B standard of 7,700) slipped away from his grasp on the second day of the weekend competition in Hadrian's Wall Country. Still, it was a measure of the athletics giant that the Canvey Islander happens to be that he simply made it through the rigours of the 10 events. That he did so as a winner, with a final tally of 7,491 points, was a mark of a man of True Grit, John Wayne quality.
Ever since he emerged as a silver medal winner at the World Championships in Seville back in 1999, "the Dean Machine" has been dogged by physical malfunctions. Out of competitive commission since striking Commonwealth gold in Melbourne two years ago, the 30-year-old wrenched his right groin in the long jump on Saturday, had four injections to get him to the second day, and could only grimace and hobble from event to event yesterday.
After crossing the line still on target for Beijing with a 14.77sec clocking in the 110m hurdles, the opening event on day two, Macey emitted an anguished scream that reverberated around the compact Tynedale Athletics Park, then crashed on to the grass bank at track-side in obvious distress. Within half an hour, though, he was limping into the centre of the arena to contest the discus. He threw a satisfactory 45.64 metres, then somehow contrived to lever himself over 4.40m in the pole vault, hurled the javelin out to 45.88m (when struggling to muster a walk-up, let alone a run-up) and – after his chances of hitting 8,000 points had finally gone – managed to drag his beat-up body around three-and-three-quarter laps of the track in 5min 30.17sec, more than a minute slower than his personal best for 1500m. He finished the final event a long way adrift of the field but that allowed his rivals to pay fitting respect by joining in the mass ovation. In all probability, it was Macey's last stand as an athlete.
"Keeping myself going was never hard," the former lifeguard maintained. "You start a decathlon; you finish a decathlon. I wanted to make the Olympic team but I was never going to accept a soft ticket, on the B score. If I'd scored 8,000 this weekend, it would have given me a reasonable chance of doing my country proud at the Olympics.
"I tore the groin on my right side in the long jump and then did the groin on my left side in the pole vault, but I was always going to finish this. My body might not be there, but the spirit is. I'll look back one day and maybe be quite proud of what I've done. Showed a lot of them whippersnappers how to do a decathlon."
It all sounded like an old warrior getting ready to ride off into the sunset – well, like a battle-scarred veteran of 30, at any rate. "I may be young but I'm beaten to bits," Macey confided, as he contemplated his future. "The reality is, with the injuries I keep getting, it's difficult to see me getting back to the level that I need to be at. I need to make a decision now. I'll do that in the next week or two and make an announcement."