Medal or not, Jared Connaughton has a special place in many Islanders’ hearts.
Nearly 150 people were at the Charlottetown Airport Monday night to welcome the two-time Olympian home from England. Islanders waved P.E.I. and Canadian flags and clapped as he came through the doors.
“I wish I had a medal to show you guys,” he told the crowd.
“We came to see you, Jared,” one man said.
“Welcome home,” a woman shouted.
“We’re proud of you Jared,” another added.
The 27-year-old was thrust into the national spotlight Saturday during the 4x100-metre relay. Running the third leg, the New Haven sprinter stepped on the border of his lane. He passed the baton and the team finished in 38.07, a bronze-medal winning time.
But a few minutes later it was announced Canada had been disqualified for the lane violation.
“Those 10 minutes, when we were bronze medalists at the Olympic Games, were magical and I will always have that,” Connaughton said.
Following the race Connaughton apologized on Twitter. It was retweeted 2,700 times, the most of any tweets that day.
Jane Quinn, Jared’s aunt, was the first person Connaughton hugged when he arrived Monday night.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Jared,” she said. “My heart is still kind of pounding a little bit.”
Heather Pratt has worked with Jared’s mother Susan for 30 years at the Bank of Montreal. She was like many across the province who watched Saturday’s race.
“At first elation and then devastation. My heart went out to Jared and (his father) Neal and Susan,” she said. “It was fairly upsetting but in the end (I felt) a lot of pride for Jared and how he handled himself. Knowing the young man he is, it doesn’t surprise me.”
Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis presented Connaughton with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
“Your on-track performance was worthy of bronze, your off-track performance has been golden,” he said.
You’re on-track performance was worthy of bronze, you’re off-track performance has been golden. - Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis
Connaughton said he had not thought about the next Olympics, but said there are many competitions, including world championships, Pan-Am and Commonwealth Games, before the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.
“I am so unbelievably drained emotionally,” he said, noting he planned to enjoy the next few weeks with family and friends.
He was appreciative of all the support he has received here and across the nation.
“You guys being here means more to me than maybe a medal ever would,” he said.
Connaughton had special message to young athletes.
“Some days you’re the dog and other days you’re the hydrant,” he said.
“Always keep your chin up. Be proud of your hard work and be proud of the good times and the bad.
“Sometimes the bad times wake you up to the good times you weren’t paying attention to. That was a pretty bad moment, but this makes it not so bad.”
He knows the day will come when Canada will make the podium in the event.
“This is going to make our team strong,” he said.
“Maybe I won’t be part of it in a few years, but we’re going to win a medal at a major championship with me there or not.”
Premier Robert Ghiz issued a statement welcoming Connaughton home.
“He exemplified the true spirit of a great Olympian, Canadian and Islander,” he said.
The province plans to host a formal celebration to recognize his accomplishment at a later date.
Jared Connaughton shared a moment with a young volunteer while warming up for a run at the Olympics in London. He shared his experience Monday night with members of the local media:
“I kind of patted him on the back and said ‘you’re doing a great job, you know?’ He said he had been there all week and no one said anything to him,” Connaughton said, pausing to compose himself, “that’s the stuff I think I will take from it.”