OPINION: Valerie Adams' second moment of Olympic glory should have been on the podium in London.
Instead, she learned of her shot put gold medal - her successful defence of her Olympic championship - while alone in her car, driving through Switzerland.
New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie phoned to tell her that her Belarusian rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk had been stripped of the gold medal after failing a drugs test, elevating Adams to first position.
Adams will get a medal ceremony eventually, but it is likely to be weeks away, after she returns home to New Zealand, and thus half a world away from the venues and atmosphere of the overwhelmingly successful London Games. Adams has said she feels cheated at not receiving her gold in front of the London crowd.
Ostapchuk has protested her innocence, after testing positive for the steroid metenolone, and has vowed to appeal the ruling but she is unlikely to succeed. Even if it can be proved the drug entered her system without her knowledge, perhaps through food or drink, the rules state that she still had a technical advantage over Adams and thus the New Zealander will remain the rightful Olympic champion. The test result, meanwhile, helps explain the uncomfortable fact that Ostapchuk, who had not beaten Adams for two years, improved her form markedly to significantly outperform Adams in the Olympic final.
It has been a difficult Olympics for Adams, whose name was initially left off the competitors' list because of an administrative error in the New Zealand camp. For the New Zealanders generally, however, the Games have been an outstanding success. The six gold medals (the others were in rowing, kayaking and sailing), two silvers and five golds exceeded even the most optimistic predictions.
But there is a lesson for New Zealand in the way that the highly-favoured Nick Willis faded out of contention in the 1500m final: nothing about the Olympics can be taken for granted. Look also to the example of Australia, which has long prided itself on its approach towards elite sports.
It turned in its worst Olympic performance for 20 years. Its swimmers won a single gold; overall Australia were punished in part by the ascendant Team Great Britain exploiting its home advantage, and managed to win only one more gold medal than New Zealand. And this is despite the massive investment by Australia in its Olympic programme, estimated by The Age newspaper to be A$310 million of public money - just under $10m for every medal won.
The Olympic motto is "faster, higher, stronger". Athletes from more than 200 nations take it to heart, of course, and some countries are investing considerable resources into the pursuit of medals. But this means that honours are becoming increasingly hard to win.
The reality of this can be seen in the trend of the Australian results - 58 medals in Sydney, 50 in Athens, 46 in Beijing and 35 in London - and our Tasman cousins have realistically reduced their targets at each Games accordingly.
New Zealand, too, will face even stiffer competition in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. For now, we should cherish our small nation's achievements at the London Games, and celebrate its champions - Valerie Adams and all the others - who do us the honour of competing to the best of their true ability and without resorting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
- © Fairfax NZ News