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Olympian Jared Connaughton takes step in right direction after disqualification

Immediately after his misstep in a historic race, PEI sprinter Jared Connaughton knew what he had to do: “I have to own up to this,” he said.

Nathan Rochford/The Globe and Mail

Jared Connaughton barely remembers the race and he has not seen it. Maybe one day, he says. But not now. He doesn't need to torture himself.

Instead, he remembers those 10 minutes of sheer joy when he and his teammates thought they had won an Olympic bronze medal – a surprising third place in a 4x100-metre relay won by the Jamaicans in world-record time.

And then, he remembers glancing up at the screen at London's Olympic Stadium, seeing the disqualification, and then seeing his teammates on the track, crying.

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In that instant, Mr. Connaughton knew what he had to do – and, in the process, the 27-year-old sprinter from Prince Edward Island sparked an outpouring of pride from Canadians.

"I have to own up to this," he recalled thinking at the time. "I can't show people that I'm upset because I have to be responsible for what I did."

Responsible, that is, for costing Canada the bronze by simply stepping on the line as he rounded the turn of the track in the third leg of the relay. And he went to the microphones and said so.

"We were really proud of him," said Bob Gray, his former elementary school principal in PEI. "Maybe in other places they think of him as the guy who stepped on the line. Here they think of him as the guy who stepped up."

Back in his home province now, Mr. Connaughton has been reflecting on the race and the incredible outpouring of support afterward. He's been trading tweets with NFL star Wes Welker, who had a similar experience, dropping a crucial pass at this year's Super Bowl.

"He said, 'Just keep your head up, man. How can you get defined by one moment? It's terrible. The only person that can define you is yourself. You've got lots left,' " Mr. Connaughton said about the exchange.

And he's looking ahead to next year's world championships in Moscow and to the Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015. He also dreams of competing in Rio de Janeiro the following year – which would be his third Olympics.

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Describing himself as not "overly sentimental," he said he doesn't believe he's "cursed or has a black cloud following me around," yet he knows he still hasn't completely dealt with this defeat. With that in mind, he and his agent have decided he will take a break until October. Usually he runs more races in the summer.

"You have to anticipate somewhere along the line having an emotional meltdown," he said. "Where I am emotionally right now … it's perhaps not the best thing to compete when your heart is not in it."

About his 4x100 teammates – Gavin Smellie, Seyi Smith and Justyn Warner – Mr. Connaughton says they understand that "things happen."

"You're in the wrong business if you think that everything you do is going to go well because there are too many variables to think that. It happens. We were all upset about that," he said.

His wife, Mesha, and his parents were all in London and supported him after the race. And Mr. Connaughton remembered a coach recalling an incident in which one of his athletes messed up and was crying on the track.

"He said, 'Be upset, be emotional but take responsibility and grow from this,' " Mr. Connaughton said. Later, that athlete told him that was the hardest thing he had ever been through but it made him a better runner.

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"It sort of flashed through my head," Mr. Connaughton said.

Sitting at the track at the University of Prince Edward Island on Wednesday, slightly hungover from a friend's stag the night before, the sprinter is treated like a rock star. Young athletes from all over Canada, competing at the Legion National Youth Track and Field Championships, practically swarm him.

And Mr. Connaughton is happy to sign shoes, T-shirts and programs. In fact, the island has been right behind him from the first tweet he sent out apologizing for the misstep.

"The resounding positive feedback I've gotten is amazing," he said. "I have nearly 10,000 Twitter followers in four or five days."

Returning to the island earlier this week, Mr. Connaughton, who lives and trains in Texas, was greeted at the airport by about 150 supporters and awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal by the Lieutenant Governor.

In addition, 10-year-old Elijah Porter, from Newfoundland and Labrador, sent his Tim Hortons soccer medal to the relay team, to help make up for losing the bronze. Mr. Connaughton said he called Elijah's mother, thanked her and told her she had a "great son." He said Elijah can expect a care package from the team in the next few days.

Now that it's done, Mr. Connaughton says he would rather have been on the track, leaving it all out there, than anywhere else, no matter how the race turned out. "Sometimes you get a chance to perform – you perform well, sometimes you perform poorly, but it's that opportunity that means the most."

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