LONDON - As she crossed the finish line in last place, an emotional Paula Findlay kept repeating the same two words.

"I'm sorry."

It was a heartbreaking end to the Edmonton triathlete's Olympic debut.

She won't be going home with a medal, but the 23-year-old will be remembered for her gutsy performance. Despite being more than 12 minutes behind winner Nicola Spirig of Switzerland, Findlay refused to drop out, saying she felt she owed it to her supporters to finish.

As she approached the finish line to enthusiastic cheers from the crowd in Hyde Park, the tears flowed behind her red wraparound sunglasses. Once she was done, the emotions took over as she crouched down, her head in her hands.

"I just want to apologize," she said after the race. "I feel terrible. I'm really sorry to everybody to Canada. I had big hopes for myself and a lot of people had big hopes in me."

A hip injury prevented Findlay from entering any pre-Olympic races this year but she said her hip was "100 per cent" on Saturday.

"It feels really good," she said. "I wish I would have had more time to prepare."

She said she's only been able to run for the past two months.

"I guess my fitness is not quite there," said Findlay. "I don't know what happened, the Olympics are crazy."

She's right about that. The race ended in a thrilling photo finish with Spirig edging Lisa Norden of Sweden to claim gold.

The two women were given the same time of one hour 59.48 seconds but Spirig was declared the winner. Erin Densham of Australia took bronze.

Like Findlay, Kathy Tremblay of Pincourt, Que., had a disastrous day, dropping out of the race after crashing on her bike. She wanted to continue but was forced to abandon the race due to technical problems.

"I had to get back on my bike, it didn't work out," she said. "The chain wasn't going forward but I wanted to finish the race."

She said she was feeling good before the crash.

"I just wanted to keep going, I had no negative energy," she said. "It was all positive, and I know I did the work before the race."

A little over a year ago, Findlay was touted as a favourite for gold in London. The rising star had won two World Championship Series races on the Olympic course and was ranked No. 1 in the world.

Then, in July 2011, she was forced to pull out of a World Cup race in her hometown with a hip injury she suffered during training a week earlier. It nagged her for months and set her back in her training.

"It's not an excuse, but I haven't done an Olympic distance race for 12 months," said Findlay.

While she said the hip wasn't an issue Saturday, Findlay struggled from the get-go. She was in 46th spot at the first transition from the swim to the bike and had slipped to the bottom of the standings by the start of the run.

She said she felt "wobbly."

"My legs weren't working, I don't know what was going on with them," she said. "Stupid legs."

But the gutsy Findlay kept battling. She said she couldn't bring herself to drop out.

"I thought about friends back home who stayed up to 2 o'clock in the morning to watch me, friends along the course and family who are with me here," she said. "I have so many supporters. The only reason I would have pulled off was because I was wobbling."

"I didn't want to quit," she added. "It's disappointing to quit."

She received plenty of support from her fellow athletes via Twitter.

"Just saw @PaulaFindlay what a year she's been through," Whitfield said. "Keep ur head up champ, what a journey just 2 make start line. Lessons #4rio (& life)."

Whitfield's hashtag refers to the 2016 Rio Games.

"Gutsy race for @PaulaFindlay, tough go today, but you made us proud for sticking it out till the finish," said middle-distance runner Hilary Stellingwerff. "Stay positive, look ahead."

A couple hours after the race, Findlay tweeted back to her supporters.

"Sadder than I've ever been," she said. "Thanks for the love. Life goes on."

— With files from Canadian Press reporter Robert Laflamme

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