EUGENE, Ore. -- After her race was over, Lauryn Williams didn't stick around to watch the three women taking their victory lap around Hayward Field, slapping high fives with one hand and waving a miniature American flag with the other.
In between the semifinals and the final of the 100-meter dash Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials, Williams spent some time visualizing herself in that all-too-familiar position. She allowed herself to believe that this moment could once again be hers to share with the world.
"I told myself, 'I want one of those flags,' " said Williams, a Rochester native. "I even pictured the announcer saying 'Lauryn, you did it for a third time! How's it feel?' "
If she hadn't known how to dream big, she never would have made one Olympics, let alone two. But on Saturday night, as the yellow rays finally burst through the gray northwestern sky and bounded onto the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, it became clear from the moment the gun went off in the final that this night likely would signify the sun setting on Williams' sterling Olympic career.
She started too slow and knew it right away. Running in Lane 8, a station she earned by squeaking through the semifinals, the real race for London was being run on the other side of the straightaway, and she never could catch up to Carmelita Jeter (10.92 seconds), Tianna Madison (10.96) and Jeneba Tarmoh (11.07), who would take those flags that Williams envisioned as hers. Tarmoh's third-place finish was later called into question when officials declared a dead heat with Allyson Felix for the third and final spot. Officials from USA Track and Field were meeting late Saturday night to make a determination on how to resolve issue for the third spot on the Olympic team.
No matter. It didn't affect Williams. She finished sixth with a time of 11.18 seconds, and she admitted that, this time around, just making the final felt like an accomplishment. Once she was there, she looked around at those other women and gave herself a pep talk.
"I just told myself I deserve this as much as the other seven people on the line," Williams said. "I've worked as hard as them, if not harder. I've beaten everyone on that line at some point or another. Why not today be the day when I beat them again?"
From the time she woke up Saturday, this day was either going to be the end or the beginning of something truly special.
If it was the end, then it was the denouement of one of the best Olympic careers to come out of Western Pennsylvania in recent memory. Williams first realized that she was fast when her late father, David, took her to the Carnegie Science Museum as a child and she beat the time of a hologram rendering of 100-meter legend Florence Griffith-Joyner. After three years at the University of Miami, as a 20-year-old, she took the track world by storm, winning the silver medal in the 100 at the 2004 Athens Games.
If it was the beginning, then it was a tale of personal redemption and growth that would be told over and over again for the next month on the way to London. Williams had to leave the track behind in 2010 to realize how much she still had inside of her. Coming back was a different kind of experience. She didn't even make the final in the 2011 national championships, missing out on the world championships for the first time.
Still, she did not stop. She employed a small army -- a chef and a massage therapist and a lot of friends -- to help her get to Saturday with a fighting chance.
"I've totally been humbled by it all," Williams said.
She ran an 11.15 in the semifinals earlier Saturday, and it worked out that she was the final person to qualify. That put her in Lane 8 for the final, thinking about a transatlantic trip and one last shot at Olympic glory. But it didn't happen for her this time.
She will continue to race until her contract with Saucony ends next year, but she said it's doubtful she will be at the 2016 Olympic trials running for a shot at Brazil.
Williams will compete in the 200 meters later this week, but it would appear to be a long shot. The 100 is the event that has been her inspiration, her loyal partner all these years, and she gave it a worthy and meaningful final dance.