In a race that saw about a fifth of the field succumb to the heat, Dylan Wykes ran to Canada's best finish in the men's Olympic marathon Sunday, crossing the line in 20th place.
Jerome Drayton's Canadian record is safe for another day.
Wykes, a 29-year-old from Kingston, Ont., finished in two hours 15 minutes 26 seconds.
"It was brutal. I tried to be conservative and then run people down, in the second half I passed 10 to 15 guys. . . . 20th, I'm happy," Wykes said. "Nineteenth would have been nice, would have been nice to get in the teens.
"I put every ounce into it. I was trying to kick the last 400 metres. There was nothing (left) from about 22 miles, the third time into the twisty section just absolutely killed me. I just could not move at all. It was brutal."
Eric Gillis of Antigonish, N.S., was 22nd in 2:16:00 while Reid Coolsaet of Hamilton finished 27th in 2:16:29.
The marathon capped an up-and-down performance by Canada's track and field team in London. Derek Drouin's bronze in the high jump was the team's lone medal.
Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda was the surprise gold medallist, finishing ahead of two Kenyan favourites in 2:08:01. Alel Kirui won the silver in 2:08:27 while Wilson Kipsang was third in 2:09:37.
Twenty runners dropped out as the temperature soared from 21 C at the start to 24 C by the finish.
Gillis said his optimal marathon temperature is between 4 and 12 C, and "this was quite a bit warmer than that." He estimates he consumed well over a litre of water throughout the race, and then doused himself with a couple more litres.
Canadian marathoners have been chasing Drayton's national record of 2:10.09 for 37 years, and Wykes, Coolsaet and Gillis believe under the right conditions that mark will soon fall. But it was never in jeopardy Sunday — only the three medallists managed to run faster than the Canadian record.
"Someone's going to break the record in a year or two," Gillis said. "It's just fun to have that to chase too, it's an extra bonus. There's a lot of things I enjoy about marathoning right now, and that would be a feather in the cap if it were to happen."
Coolsaet had a difficult day. The 33-year-old from Hamilton, Ont., led the Canadian contingent until about the 30-kilometre mark and then "bonked" — hit the wall — with a few kilometres to go. He said he was having trouble keeping fluids down.
"I've had problems in the heat. I don't regret going out as fast as I did," Coolsaet said. "I think I paced myself pretty well. If I could have just taken in the drinks I needed to take in, maybe it would have been better. You always have that point where it starts getting tougher, but it got exponentially tougher than any marathon I've run."
The 42.195-kilometre course began and finished along the Mall in the shadows of Buckingham Palace. From the Mall, runners weaved through twists and turns through Old London.
Flag-waving crowds, some-20 people deep, lined the narrow course set against the backdrop of some of London's most beautiful landmarks, including the Tower of London, the Victoria Memorial, and St. Paul's Cathedral. Helicopters buzzed overhead.
The staggering crowd that turned out for the race was a fitting end to a track and field competition that had been the hottest ticket in London. A capacity crowd of 80,000 poured in Olympic Stadium daily, for both the morning and evening sessions.
Athletics Canada's head coach Alex Gardiner called the team's performance a "book-end Games," beginning with Dylan Armstrong's disappointing fifth-place performance in the shot put and ending with the heartbreaking disqualification of Canada's men's 4x100-metre relay team Saturday night.
"Despite that few minutes of glory (when the relay team thought it had won bronze), it ended up feeling pretty sour for a lot of us," Gardiner said.
Canada fielded it's second-largest team ever, with 45 athletes, and had been targetting at least two medals at Olympic Stadium. But one of its top hopes — hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep — didn't make the team, and Armstrong, world No. 1-ranked last year, wound up fifth.
Jessica Zelinka, who was hoping to improve on her fifth-place finish in Beijing, finished seventh in the heptathlon and then seventh in the 100-metre hurdles.
"She might be Canada's greatest track and athlete in the modern era," Gardiner said.
Thirty-five members of the team were Olympic rookies, and if Drouin's bronze in the high jump, Canada's near-bronze in the relay, and strong performances by other young athletes is any indication, the team's future looks bright.
"We didn't get the number of medals everybody thought we should get including ourselves, but we were close often. When you look at how young the group is, how talented we are, people like Cam Levins (11th in the 10,000 metres and 14th in the 5,000) and Derek Drouin and the relay team, and other young athletes on the team, I'm really thrilled."
Lopes-Schliep's bronze in the 100-metre hurdles was Canada's lone track and field medal four years ago in Beijing. Canada didn't win a medal in the sport in either 2000 in Sydney or the 2004 Athens Games.
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