Jared Tallent has conceded “it would have meant so much” if he could have held on to defend his gold in the 50-kilometre walk at the Rio Olympics, but he was still proud to take away the silver medal.
And Tallent also took pride in what he describes will be a “clean podium”, a reference to the absent Russia’s doping record in the walks.
The Australian, who had been troubled by a hamstring injury prior to the Games, did all he could to claim the gold on the street course in Rio, launching his move in the second half of the race to lead the field through the 40-kilometre mark amid stifling heat.
He was still in front five kilometres from home but was unable to hold off the storming finish of Slovakian world champion Matej Toth, who won gold in a time of 3 hours, 40 minutes and 58 seconds.
Tallent finished 18 seconds adrift of Toth, collapsing over the line in 3:41:16, and the silver is his fourth Olympic medal and follows the belated 50km gold he was awarded earlier this year.
He had been second across the line behind Sergey Kirdyapkin at the London Olympics in 2012, but the Russian was disqualified four years later because of doping offences.
“I really wanted it, I thought I had it,” an exhausted Tallent said after the race.
“I probably got a little too excited. I was feeling really good. I was patient throughout the race and just when I needed to be a little bit more patient I went for it and took off at 40 kilometres.
“I really thought I had it but I just ran out of legs with about four kilometres to go and saw Matej coming. I was trying to do everything to hold on.
“I really wanted to come down the finish line first place … with a lap to go I gave it everything but I just had nothing left.”
The awarding of the bronze medal went back and forth, with Japan’s Hirooki Arai third across the line before being disqualified.
Canada’s Evan Dunfee was elevated to the bronze position until Arai’s disqualification was overturned following an appeal.
Arai’s reinstatement saw his time stand at 3:41.24, while Tallent’s countrymen Chris Erickson was 10th in 3:48.40 and Brendon Reading 40th in 4:13.02.
In the women’s 20km walk, Tallent’s sister Rachel placed 20th, while there was a top-10 finish for fellow Australian Regan Lamble at ninth. Tanya Holliday finished 26th.
China’s Liu Hong claimed gold, ahead of Mexico’s Maria Guadalup Gonzalez and China’s Lu Xiuzhi.
Thirty-one-year-old Jarred Tallent, Australia’s most prolific male track and field medallist, was given his gold from London at a ceremony in Melbourne in June.
The honour of achieving the feat for a second occasion and actually being able to cross the line first had driven Tallent, who led until just over two kilometres remaining, but he had to settle for silver.
“It would have meant so much to hold on and get the gold here,” said Tallent, who already had a 50km silver from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I wanted to be Olympic champion for more than a few months but just couldn’t do it unfortunately.
“I’m still proud of how I went.”
Tallent satisfied there were no ‘cheats’ in Rio walk
The almost complete ban on Russian track and field athletes in Rio meant there were “no suspicisions” among the field for the 50km walk, according to Tallent.
He was convinced it was a legitimate race that would not fall under the dark shadow so often cast by doping allegations.
“I didn’t have to worry about any cheats in the race that were going to spoil the party for all the clean athletes,” Tallent said.
“We’re going to have a clean podium again and I’ll be proud to stand up there with those other blokes on the podium.”
Tallent’s silver adds to the bronze Dane Bird-Smith won in last Friday’s 20km walk, the only medals Australia has collected in track and field in Rio.