On the podium Felix Sanchez cried and cried. As the national anthem of his beloved Dominican Republic rung out across the stadium speakers, Sanchez wept uncontrollably. Despite his gold medal, they hardly looked like tears of joy to anyone watching. It could yet become one of the most enduring images of London 2012.
Sanchez had just won his second Olympic gold. The first had come in Athens in 2004 as a youngster and the second as a written-off 34-year old.
But that was not why the tears came.
Four years ago in Beijing, Sanchez was at the top of his game, regarded as the best 400-meters hurdler in the world. But he woke up on the morning of his preliminary heat to the news that his grandmother had died.
Sanchez thought about dropping out but decided to run, and he wound up with the 22nd-fastest time of 25 finishers.
“I ran terribly. I cried the whole day. I was very emotional,” he recalled. “After that Olympics, I made a promise that I was going to win a medal for her.”
And so he has.
Sanchez ran with a photo of his grandmother taped to the inside of his bib, close to his heart. His spikes bore the inscription, “Abuela”, Spanish for Grandmother.
And when he crossed the finish line he bent to his knees, pulled out the picture, put it on the track and kissed the photo of the woman who had raised him.
Victory though, was hardly a foregone conclusion.
“I went out probably too hard. … I came off the 10th hurdle and I was very tired. And for about three or four strides — about 5 meters — I was just waiting for someone to pass me. But then about 10, 15 meters to the line, I knew at that point no one was going to pass me,” said Sanchez.
“And then it got surreal, and I was just overwhelmed with emotion.”
Those emotions manifested itself in the tears on the podium and Sanchez explained that it was the rain that had bought them on.
“Ironically, it started raining. It just made me feel like my grandmother was crying tears of joy,” Sanchez explained at his news conference, choking up. “She was proud of me.”
Sanchez’s victory is all the more remarkable since he became the oldest man to win an Olympic medal in a race of 400-meters or less. These are distances normally dominated by younger men, but the veteran Sanchez, who had dominated the sport for so long, proved that a final swansong is not beyond great champions.
“When you dominate a sport for so long, you don’t want to come back in and settle for second best,” said Sanchez.
He certainly didn’t. And on the way, he had the memory of his grandmother to help him along.
-With The Daily Star input