A respectable finish
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LONDON -- Trevor Barron finished in 26th place, but he couldn't stop smiling.
He stood to the side of The Mall, the tree-lined stretch of red pavement that connects Buckingham Palace to the Admiralty Arch, his white jersey soaking wet after a nearly 83-minute journey through the heart of London. He kept looking around, as if trying to capture it all in his memory one last time.
Barron came here knowing he wasn't going to medal in the Olympic 20-kilometer race walk, so that was not going to put him in a dour mood, not Saturday night.
"This is once every four years we have a crowd like this," said Barron, 19, a native of Bethel Park.
"It's motivating. I had people cheering for me that I had never seen before."
For a young man who is used to training in the relative solitude of South Park with his father, Bruce, running next to him, the Saturday event was out of this world.
The 20-kilometer course begins on The Mall, heading west to the palace and veering northwest at the Victoria Memorial, which is topped by a majestic golden sculpture. The contestants then head through the park on Constitution Hill, make a U-turn, circle the memorial and return to The Mall.
Twenty-five race walkers crossed the line before Barron after completing the approximately 12-mile journey. China's Ding Chen came in first after 1 hour, 18 minutes and 46 seconds, and Barron's day ended four minutes later on the dot.
Barron's time of 1 hour, 22 minutes and 46 seconds was the second-best of his life. Overall, it was pretty hard to be picky with 26th place out of 56 competitors.
Since he didn't have much to lose, Barron decided to try to stay with the pack as long as possible. Eventually, that became too taxing for him, and, by the 12-kilometer mark, he picked up two red-card penalties for loss of contact with the ground.
Race walkers are given a red card when they break either of the two rules that govern the sport: First, at least a part of one foot must be touching the ground at all times. Second, the advancing leg must be straightened (not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until the vertical upright position.
After receiving his second red card, he knew that a third would disqualify him from the race. Barron had no choice but to slow down. Barron averaged 8:08 2-kilometer splits the first five laps and 8:25 the last five.
"The last thing I wanted is to get disqualified at the Olympics," Barron said.
"I'd rather finish respectfully."
He did that, especially in the eyes of anyone who knew his story. As a child, Barron battled epilepsy, a chronic neurological disorder characterized by frequent seizures. Only after successful brain surgery at age 13 did Barron know that he could pursue an athletic endeavor without worry.
In the fall of 2008, after watching the Beijing Olympics, he began to commit himself fully to training for London in the race walk. His workouts have evolved to 85-mile weeks.
If Barron is going to go after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he knows it's going to take more than that.
The young men who earned medals Saturday "are sacrificing a lot more than I am, to be honest," Barron said, referring to his decision to attend Colorado College as a normal student last fall.
"I don't want to make excuses in that sense, but they have a very different system going for them."
Barron won't decide if he's going for Rio for at least another six months. Right now, after going through this, of course he'd want to try. But once the excitement dies down, will he still want to do what it takes?
"This is the biggest sporting event in the world," Barron said.
"And four years from now, I'd love to be at the front."
Meaning he wouldn't be OK with 26th place next time.
"If I train four more years," Barron said, "I'm not going to train for 20th place. I'm going to train to win."
Correction/Clarification: (Published August 10, 2012) Trevor Barron of Bethel Park finished 26th of 56 competitors in the Olympic 20-kilometer race walking competition. A story Sunday incorrectly reported where he finished.
First Published August 5, 2012 12:00 am