By CHRIS RATTUE
The difference between Olympic delight and despair can be 200m.
That's not the gap between two runners at the finishing line. At the first men's Olympic triathlon, it was roughly the distance between the medal podium and a small pathway where Hamish Carter and his wife, Marisa, walked hand in hand.
From the pathway they could hear the Canadian anthem saluting winner Simon Whitfield, who had recovered after a bike crash.
Two hours can change your life in elite triathlons. Whitfield will be remembered as the Olympics' first male triathlon gold medallist.
Carter felt he had let his country down, and looked it.
A young New Zealand fan yelled to him: "You're still the greatest, Hamish." But it did not seem to lift the Aucklander's spirits.
Finishing 26th in the Olympics, 2 1/2 minutes behind the winner, is a nightmare for the man ranked No 1 or 2 in the world, depending on which ratings you believe.
Even the cheers of New Zealand supporters could not restore energy to legs that felt defeated when the 10km run began.
There was not even the consolation of a New Zealand medal from someone else.
Evelyn Williamson, after a heavy buffeting in the swim, was 22nd in the women's race, won by Swiss Brigitte McMahon on Saturday.
World No 18 Craig Watson was 10 places better than Carter, while Ben Bright was 12 places behind.
"Ever since I was a young kid I wanted to come here and race," said 29-year-old Carter of the Olympic experience.
"This is not how I saw myself racing. I tried to lift. I just couldn't, dammit!
"The supporters were amazing. I just wish I could have done more for them.
"It's a real bummer ... I just wanted to perform well for the country and I couldn't do it."
Carter was in the leading group out of the water, following Australian Craig Walton and the pre-race favourite, Briton Simon Lessing, on to the bikes.
Maybe it was the personalities involved or the pressure of the Olympics, but the leading pack could not find a common work ethic and failed to make a break.
So it turned into a runner's race, where Whitfield is supreme.
He finished the bike leg more than a minute behind leader and present world champion Olivier Marceau from France, after coming down in a tangle of machinery.
"I threw a hissy fit but it wasn't a bad crash and I kept my focus," he said.
Near the finish, Whitfield cruised past German Stephan Vuckovic, leaving Czech Jan Rehula with the bronze medal.
Whitfield's father is Australian, his 96-year-old grandmother lives in Sydney, he went to school there and holds dual citizenship.
He is ranked third in World Cup races this year, and 13th overall.
Whitfield said he had almost taken in too much Olympic spirit.
"It was almost easy to be happy with second. I had to keep telling myself, 'You want to win it ... '
"I wanted to hear my anthem."
So did Hamish Carter, but as Watson said: "Triathlons often come down to the man who rolls out of bed feeling best on the day."
Simon Whitfield (Can) 1 hr 48 min 24sec 1, Stephan Vuckovic (Ger) 1:48.37 2, Jan Rehula 1:48.46 3, Dmitry Gaag (Kaz) 1:49.03 4, Ivan Rana (Esp) 1:49.10 5.
Craig Watson 1:50.01 16, Hamish Carter 1:50.57 26, Ben Bright 1:52.17 38.