It will likely go down as one of the iconic images of these Games.
Four Canadian sprinters draped in the flag on the track after coming across the finish line in the men’s 4x100 relay in third place.
Only instead of celebrating, they are all in tears.
Canada’s relay team of Gavin Smellie, Seyi Smith, Jared Connaughton and Justyn Warner was disqualified on Saturday for a lane violation, with the decision coming mere moments after the Olympic Stadium scoreboard had shown them in bronze medal position.
Their time had them a little more than a second after the powerhouse Jamaican team, which shattered the world record and took gold, and the United States, but on the podium for the first time in more than a decade.
Moments later, however, the standings were reposted, placing Trinidad and Tobago in the bronze medal position and Canada in last with a DQ instead of a time.
Elation had become heartbreak, as it was ruled Connaughton had stepped on the inner lane line prior to passing the baton to Warner for the final leg.
“I gave it everything I had,” said Warner, who was doubled over in tears as he spoke with the media. “I know every single one of these guys did. It sucks. It sucks to see the DQ after we put everything into it. That’s the worst way to lose. That’s the worst way to lose a medal.”
“They’re devastated,” relay coach Glenroy Gilbert said.
Athletics Canada immediately appealed the ruling after the race, with head coach Alex Gardiner arguing that the team gained no advantage from the violation.
The appeal was quickly turned down, however, and the medal ceremony proceeded as scheduled for the three other teams.
“I feel saddened for Canada, but we’ll accept the bronze,” Trinidad and Tobago’s Marc Burns said after the race.
What made the situation even more devastating for the Canadians other than the eventual disqualification is the incorrect results were initially posted, which prompted the team members to hug and begin pulling out flags in celebration.
“As soon as we saw three up there and it was Canada, we just... knew we did it,” Warner said, sobbing. “We said ‘we did it.’ ”
Soon after, it was clear there was a problem for one of the top three teams, however, as a review had been initiated and there was a delay on the track.
That’s when the team learned the medal they had worked four years to earn was no longer theirs.
Connaughton – the senior member of the team and the only holdover from a sixth place finish in Beijing – said he accepted “full responsibility” for the error.
“It’s unforgiving this rule,” Connaughton said. “One foot on the line... I’m the captain of this team and we ran a great relay tonight. We showed the world we’re one of the best relay teams in the world. One step took that away. But it’s sports.
“We came in here and no one thought we could do this,” he added. “We showed them we could... I’m proud of those guys. They’re like my family. They’re my little brothers.”
The rule that was broken is one that has been instituted by the International Association of Athletics Federations in the past 20 years.
Previously, teams were not disqualified until they had made three consecutive steps on a lane line.
“In all races run in lanes, each athlete shall keep within his allocated lane from start to finish,” the current rule reads. “This shall also apply to any portion of a race run in lanes.”
Connaughton argued afterward that the rule should be changed, pointing out several close friends – including Wallace Spearmon of the U.S. – had been robbed of medals in recent Games because of stepping on the line.
“It’s just a stupid rule,” he said. “There’s a lot of stupid rules in the sport unfortunately. We fell victim to that tonight.”
Canada had come into the race as significant underdogs, with the relay team not having won a medal at a major international competition in more than a decade.
After a heat in which they ran close to 38 seconds flat with the third best time of the 16 teams involved on Friday, however, Connaughton said they deserved more respect and were there to take home a medal.
They appeared to deliver on that pledge, too, with Smellie running a quick first leg and keeping pace with the Jamaicans one lane over in Saturday’s final.
By the time Connaughton passed the baton to Warner, however, they were trailing France for third spot behind Jamaica and the United States, and needed a big push from the anchor leg to come in with a time of 38.07 seconds that was their second best ever as a group.
They accomplished that time despite not having a single sprinter who was in last weekend’s 100 metre final, with only Warner qualifying for the semi-finals with a personal best of 10.09 seconds.
Connaughton, meanwhile, is regarded as a 200 metre specialist for his ability through the final turn. It was on that final bend, however, where everything went wrong, with the team’s oldest member making a major misstep to cost them a medal.
Gilbert, who won gold with Canada at the 1996 Olympics, felt that despite the disqualification, the team had made a statement they were still among the world’s elite relay squads.
He also said that when it initially appeared they had finished third, coaches from other countries had run up to congratulate him.
“Everybody on the warm-up track were so happy to see Canada finish third,” Gilbert said. “The Americans, the Jamaicans, everyone was like ‘Canada’s back.’ Big hugs. We were just really excited. I think I strained my calf I reacted so quickly to the third place finish.
“We’ve shown today that we’re back on top of the world of sprinting,” he added.
As for the rule, as a sprinter who raced under those conditions through a decorated career, Gilbert wanted it known the devastating result was the correct one.
“It is not unjust,” Gilbert said. “Everyone that goes out on the track understands the rules of the track. And No. 1, you can’t touch the inside lane line. I wouldn’t call it unjust. As sad as I am, they know the rules and they know how to play the game.
“They say things happen for a reason. Right now, I don’t know the reason.”