- 21 Aug 08, 05:50 PM
All day, the omens had looked so good for Phillips Idowu.
The rain had fallen so heavily in Beijing that he could have been at home in London. His hair was dyed red, the same tone as the Chinese flag. He even had the same bib number, 1809, as Kelly Holmes had worn when she won 1500m gold in Athens - the same number, spookily, as the Olympic triple jump record.
But in the end, even for a man who had said a few weeks ago that he felt "bullet-proof", who had gone all year unbeaten and who produced his season's best in the Olympic final, it wasn't quite enough.
This was one of those strange evenings where the disappointments almost overshadowed the gold medals.
Thursday night was meant to be the evening that Liu Xiang lifted the roof off the Bird's Nest by retaining his 110m hurdles crown, the set-piece moment where the whole of China gathered round their television sets and celebrated victory for their favourite son.
Instead, with Liu's Achilles injury forcing him out of Monday's heats before he'd cleared a single hurdle, Dayron Robles' fine win was greeted with generous applause but little more. It didn't matter how beautifully Robles hurdled. In Liu's absence, it could never be the same for the home crowd.
For Britain, Idowu's near-miss was preceded by Goldie Sayers losing out on a javelin bronze by a single place, even after throwing a new British record - and declaring herself "sick as a dog" afterwards.
The highly-promising Michael Rimmer failed to get through his 800m semi, stricken by food poisoning, and Martyn Rooney ran more than half a second slower in the 400m final than he had in his semi, when a time even two tenths of a second slower would have won him an unexpected bronze.
The women's 4x100m qualified for their final, but their male counterparts - the reigning Olympic champions - made a terrible mess of their last changeover and found themselves, correctly, disqualified.
For the American team it was even worse. First Jamaica completed its sweep of the individual sprint titles as Veronica Campbell-Brown blew away Allyson Felix in the 200m final.Then Darvis Patton and Tyson Gay dropped the relay baton with the race at their mercy, repeating the error which cost the US gold four years ago.
Just when they thought it couldn't get any worse, Torri Edwards and Lauryn Williams then did exactly the same.
Against that, the solitary victory for LaShawn Merritt in the 400m didn't really balance things up, particularly when reigning champion Jeremy Wariner ran so poorly behind him.
Unlike those relay teams, however, Idowu doesn't deserve any opprobrium.
Two nights after another east London-born Brit won gold in the Bird's Nest, he almost repeated Christine Ohuruogu's trick of coming from behind to snatch an Olympic title.
Idowu had sought to brush away the pressure of being gold medal favourite by telling himself beforehand that he was dealing with "just another sandpit in another country".
For the first three rounds, it looked to have worked. When Leevan Sands nailed a 17.59m to snatch the lead off Phillips, the Briton replied with 17.62m with his very next jump - the sort of response that his critics have often claimed is beyond him.
What none of us had counted on was that Portugal's Nelson Evora would in turn respond to Idowu's leap by producing a jump of 17.67m - his longest of the season by over 30cm - with just two rounds to go.
Four years ago in Athens, Idowu failed to land a single clean jump, exiting the biggest stage of all with three successive fouls.
This was different. He would have needed a personal best at the death to deny Evora, who hasn't been in the world's top 10 all summer, and PBs almost never happen in the last two rounds of a triple jump competition.
Five centimetres was all that stood between Idowu and gold in the final reckoning. Arguably, his rivals raised their game by a slightly larger percentage tonight than he did - but with margins that fine, it would be a harsh man who criticised him for that.
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