Rarely has so broad a smile crossed the face of a man who finished seventh in an Olympic track heat.
However, this is one of the cases where statistics and rankings commit a grave injustice against the measure of the accomplishment.
Canadian steeplechaser Alex Genest came into the London Games with the objective of making the final in the 3,000-metre event (the last Canadian to do so was Grame Fell, who did it in 1992 and still holds the national record).
It didn’t happen, but what did happen is this: in his heat Genest stuck with some of the best - including former Olympic and world champion Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya - until the bitter end, and ran his fastest time of the year.
"I met my objective, which was to run my fastest time of the season today, which is a pretty rare thing. So I missed the final by two spots, I gave everything . . . I almost got there, I was with the pack until the last turn, and that’s the real achievement: be with the pack at the end," Genest said. "I couldn’t be happier, what just happened is extraordinary."
Genest finished in 8:22.62, just .53 out the final qualifying spot - his was the slowest of the three heats, and he was jostled by another runner just before the final hurdle, which affected his stride.
"It’s how the game works," said Genest, who wasn’t shy about shoving Kemboi earlier in the race.
It’s been a remarkable ride for the 26-year-old, who relocated to Guelph, Ont., a couple of years ago in order to train with coach Dave Scott-Thomas’ Speed River Club, which is also represented in London by marathoner Eric Gillis and 1,500-metre specialist Kyle Boorsma.
Genest gravitated towards the steeplechase event - which involves four hurdles and a water jump - primarily because he wasn’t improving in other events.
"My first competition was the 60-metre hurdles, I was decent at cross-country and I did middle-distance, I was okay, but I wasn’t among the best," he said. "My coach at one point said ‘hey, why not try steeplechase’. It was 2002, I was just a kid compared to the others, but in my first race I finished second in Quebec. My coach said ‘oho, I think we’re onto something’."
The next year, Genest placed sixth at the world under-17 championships, and when you stop to consider his family history, it should have been blindingly obvious any eventual Olympic berth was going to have to be in the steeplechase, which is often seen as the red-headed stepchild of big-time track and field.
"Hurdles are in my family, I guess. My cousin was in the World University Games in the 400-metre hurdles, he made the Francophonie Games, his wife Sonia Paquette went to the Olympics in the 100-metre hurdles," he said. "My cousin lives with Joel Bourgeois (a two-time Olympian and former Pan-Am Games steeplechase champion), who is kind of my mentor for the event."
Genest is a native of tiny Lac-aux-Sables, Que., a hamlet near Shawinigan, but after getting a passport stamp in England last month, he fully intends to get one in Brazil at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"I already knew I’d be carrying on to Rio, but after today, there’s no way I’m stopping now," said Genest. "To have come here, August 3, the Olympic Games - at last, after all the training - I walked into the stadium and I looked at the 60,000 people [sic] and I said ‘it cannot get better than this’," said Genest, whose wife, baby son and parents were in the crowd.