Months of anticipation, years of training, a lifetime of dreaming and it was all over in a matter of minutes for Lawrence Okoye.
On the first morning of track and field at the Tokyo Games the former NFL defensive tackle was back in the circle-throwing-circle, pursuing glory in the sport which he made his name. With Mo Farah falling short and Jesscia Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford long retired, the sight of Okoye was a welcome throwback to our favourite sporting summer.
He was Team GB’s sole entrant in the discus and making his second Olympics appearance after playing no part in Rio 2016. He finished 12th then then began a seven year sabbatical on the fringes of several NFL teams.
But the discus desire clearly burns brightly in Okoye. He made a return to the sport for the Anniversary Games in 2019, attempting to build on his heroics in 2012. Still inspiring people seven years later, who says the London Games failed to make good on its promise to deliver a long-lasting legacy?
Thirty-two men were in contention for the next round here with 12 spots up for grabs. Okoye needed to either finish in the top 12 overall or manage a throw of 66 metres. He is the British all-time discus record holder with a career personal best is 68.24 metres and posted a 67.13 metres as recently as June during his lead-up to the Olympics, at something called ‘Discus Night’ in Södertälje, Sweden. Surely a better name for that specialist athletics evening would be Discus 2000?
In any case, it seemed fair to hope Okoye would stake a claim for a spot in Saturday’s final. The discus competition gives its contenders three attempts to post a qualifying score. Okoye, unfortunately, failed to register a single valid throw.
Three times he stepped up to perform his tribute to the Discobolus of Myron sculpture. Three times he overstepped his mark. A hat-trick of no-throws sent Okoye back to the Olympic village and ultimately Tokyo Haneda Airport with only the commemorative Team GB duvet cover as a souvenir from this Games.
It was a brutal twist in his interrupted nine-year Olympic discus odyssey, a tale which has surely reached its conclusion now. Okoye, though, is a man of many talents. He first emerged as a promising rugby player so perhaps the Sevens team could enlist him for Paris 2024? If not, you can bet gridiron will be in contention for a spot at LA 2028.
He is not the only athlete to suffer a painful early exit here in Tokyo. Ashley McKenzie, Britain’s only male judoka, had a four minute Olympics. He was eliminated at the first hurdle on Saturday and said afterwards “I just want to go home.”
It could have been worse for McKenzie and Okoye. In her first run in the women’s BMX racing heats on Thursday Japan’s Sae Hatakeyama of Japan was squeezed out around the opening corner and fell horribly, breaking her collarbone. At least for Okoye the only thing hurting on the way home will be his pride.