Britain loves an underdog – especially one who smiles. So when Team GB's Dominic King finished yesterday's 50km race walk final in 51st place and some 39 minutes behind the Russian winner, it was only fitting that it appeared as if he was doing his very own lap of honour.
The Colchester athlete, 29, picked up a number of Union flags, gave onlookers a thumbs-up and smiled. On the last 2km lap he even high-fived spectators before he came in last out of all competitors other than those who dropped out or were disqualified from the men's final.
"I didn't realise how fast I was walking so when I started to high-five the first lot of people on the lap my arm became pretty tired after about 50m. I realised I had another 1,950m to go, so not everyone got a high-five," said King, Britain's sole Olympic representative in the sport. Notwithstanding his heroically poor showing, he has been race walking since the age of 11. He and his twin brother, Daniel, who did not qualify for Team GB, are Britain's current numbers one and two.
"I fully appreciate the support that came out today, not just supporting myself, but everyone in the field," he said. "It's a gruelling event, and that [applause] can lift you."
King was helped into a wheelchair and examined by medical staff as a precaution after a race he admitted equates to more than four hours of agony, but was more concerned by a warning he was handed during the early stages. "
Unfortunately, I've had issues in the past with getting disqualified and I've been working on it for the last two years," he added.
The gold was taken by Russia's Sergey Kirdyapkin, who set a new Olympic record of three hours 35 minutes 59 seconds. The former world champion finished almost a minute clear of Australia's Jared Tallent, who took silver for the second Games in succession, with China's Si Tianfeng claiming bronze.
But King pronounced himself content. "My priority was always to finish and the second priority was to get a personal best," he said. "I didn't do too bad today. It was my third fastest time ever and I had to get a personal best just to qualify, so medals were never going to be in the equation. But I feel like I got my own medal just by getting the biggest cheer of the day."
King is the first British walker to compete in an Olympic 50km event since Chris Maddocks 12 years ago in Sydney. He was disqualified from the 20km at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, but finished sixth four years later.