SYDNEY-As he sat in the rain at Sydney Olympic Stadium watching his fellow high jumpers raise the bar, it looked like Nathan Leeper just didn't want his Olympic moment to end.
He had worked too long and too hard for his Olympic dreams to be over so soon. So he sat and watched his friends jump as his dreams slipped away on a cold, rainy Sunday night in Sydney.
Leeper fell out of the high jump competition early, failing in three attempts to clear 7 feet 6 inches, only the third competitor to be eliminated.
Sergey Kliugin of Russia won the gold medal with a jump of 7 feet 8 1/2 inches. Controversial Cuban star Javier Sotomayor won silver and Abderrahmane Hammad of Algeria won bronze. Gold medal favorite Vyacheslav Voronin of Russia injured his takeoff leg early and finished 10th.
What will be the most memorable thing about these Olympics for Leeper?
"I think getting my rear kicked," said Leeper, who starred for Kansas State and Protection High. "I'm not coming back like that next time. It's a terrible feeling getting beat that bad in the biggest meet of your life."
The 1998 NCAA high jump champion who dropped out of track for a year so he could rest and prepare for the Olympics, said he's not ready to end his career just yet because he still loves the competition.
"I love to win," he said. "Some days you win, some days you don't. But the days you win sure outweigh the days you don't."
Leeper won the U.S. Olympic Trials with his personal best of 7 feet 8 1/2 inches, but he came up empty in the Olympics. Asked why he couldn't compete on the biggest night of his life, Leeper said he couldn't explain it.
"That's a good question," he said, nodding his head. "That's a good question. You know I just don't know. There are a lot of changes you have to make in front of that many people.
"Look at this press area. There are hundreds of track meets all year that are huge in Europe and there's not anything like this. This happens every four years, you know. And the media and everybody make it out to be a giant competition. So we have to treat it like that, too."
Leeper was ranked number three in the world, but this was his first major championship. He said he tried to trick himself into thinking this night was nothing special.
"I tried to come in with the mindset it's just another track meet, even though it's not," he said. "You've got to have a little bit of butterflies. But you just come out and try to do your best."
Leeper said the long layoff might have hurt him a little bit because the competition changes in a year, but he needed to get away from the high jump pit.
"I started when I was 6 years old," he said. "So really this is 15,16 years of jumping every summer. I was just sick of it. I needed a break. I knew that if I was going to be here and jump in the Games I had to take a break or it wasn't going to happen."
Now that the Olympics have ended for Leeper, he'll start all over on his track career.
"I'm going to go home and take a little break, kind of let things heal," he said. "I've got one track meet left, the Grand Prix finals. Then I'll start training again. We'll see what happens."
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