The bar was set at a height of just over seven feet, six inches early in the mens high jump final Tuesday at the Olympics.
This would be like literally jumping over Yao Mings head. But Raleighs Jesse Williams had done it many times before.
The reigning world champion in the high jump needed to do it again, though. Williams had missed the first two times at the height (officially 2.29 meters). By rule, if he missed a third time, he was out.
The former star high jumper and wrestler at Raleigh Broughton checked the drizzly conditions one more time. Then Williams began his approach, took a leap off one foot . and banged into the bar, which clattered down beside him on the landing mat.
Williams who would end up finishing tied for ninth -- couldnt believe it.
He lay there, face-down and spread-eagled, in front of 80,000 fans. It was only for a few seconds, but it seemed longer.
Then Williams got up, walked a few steps and purposely fell down on his back on the mat. He put his hands over his face.
That is a height that I should never go out on, Williams said later. But it happened. It happened really fast. When I didnt make the third bar, I just didnt believe it was done. Still cant. It hurts.
When Williams finally arose from the mat, he started talking to himself. Later, he couldnt remember later exactly what he said.
There was a lot going through my head, Williams said. I just started thinking of everybody who helped get me here -- family and friends and everybody. And I know that they still love me This was Gods plan for me. I cant get down on myself too much. It just hurts.
Williams had successfully jumped the same height during the qualifying for the final. He had confidently declared after that he felt like he could jump out of the gym Tuesday night and that he had a good shot at the gold. Noting his underdog status because of some uneven results this year and a lingering foot injury, Williams said he was going to try to channel the Sylvester Stallone character from Rocky IV and beat the Russians.
Instead, a Russian won. Ivan Ukhov earned the gold, with American Erik Kynard taking silver and three athletes from Qatar, Canada and Great Britain tying for the bronze.
When high jumpers were either between jumps or had been eliminated, they sat on two rows of purple seats set up inside the track. Williams sat on those purple seats so long wearing a baseball cap and a warmup suit close to an hour after he had been knocked out that he looked like he was waiting for a bus that never came.
Williams kept cheering on his U.S. teammates, however. And in his comments to the media, he took pains to congratulate the winners before he talked about his own bad day.
Props to those guys for getting it done, said Williams, who now lives and trains in Eugene, Ore.
After clearing the bar easily on his first two jumps at lower heights, Williams, 28, said he thought he might have gotten too fired up and a little out of control on his approach.
Im in unbelievable shape right now, Williams said. I just couldnt figure out the runway. I felt like I could have easily made that bar and a couple more. I felt like I could have jumped a 2.38 (meters, which is slightly over 7 feet, 9 inches and would have tied Ukhov for gold) . I know Im a much better jumper then what I did today.
Williams did advance further in these Olympics than he did in 2008, when he also made the U.S. team but didnt make the final. But that was little consolation Tuesday.
I cant kick myself in the head too hard, Williams said. Ive got a few more meets this year. But it hurts. Because its the Olympic Games, and its done.
Find full Olympic results here.