Fame comes in many guises — it is not always as you imagine it might be.
Just ask Australia’s 10,000m runner Patrick Tiernan.
For 9,850 metres, it was exactly how he planned it, but the images people will remember are of him stumbling, crawling, for the last 150 metres to the finish line at Tokyo’s Olympic stadium with his mind trying to convince his reluctant body to do what it had been trained to do.
“Yeah, it’s interesting how that plays out, you know, I was thinking about that this morning,” Tiernan tells a small group of Australian journalists and a few international agencies who are interested in the man who has given new context to what is meant by the term “Australian crawl”.
“You know, if I’d finished relatively strong and come in eighth or ninth place, I don’t know whether it would have had the same sort of reaction … it’s funny how things work out that way.”
Despite the support and the thousands of positive messages Tiernan said he had received in the hours after the race “from absolute strangers”, he is still struggling inside.
“I’m very fortunate that not only do I have a great circle of people around me, but I have a great country who’s got my back and are supporting me the whole way,” he said.
“It’s more just trying to … mentally regroup … that’s been the main focus of the day.
“It wasn’t graceful, it wasn’t pretty, I get disturbed looking at the footage again so I can’t image how it looked to the public and definitely to my close family and friends but, you know, there was no way I wasn’t going to finish that race.
“You put the Australian jersey on and you’ve got to do your country proud, and I definitely felt the support of my country behind me in that race and then again this morning.”
Just like the night before, it is clear Tiernan is willing himself on.
There is exhaustion in his voice.
“It was more just a little bit of disappointment and frustration that it wasn’t in the way I envisioned that it would be.
“I was just saying, you know, you’ve got to finish, you’ve come all this way, it’s been five years since my first Olympic experience.
“Ever since that race in 2016, I’ve sort of said to myself I’m going to come back here and I’m going to compete with these guys and you know I did that for ninety-five hundred metres, I executed my race plan really well and I just ran out of steam.”
He remembers, as he tried to will his collapsed body back up for the final minutes, glancing over his shoulder to the back straight and seeing the group he’d previously lapped making their way ever closer to him.
“I saw them and I thought I can’t let them get back past me, that’s not how we’re going to go out here, so they’re just some little things I was trying to use to motivate myself to get across the line,” he said.
“In the footage I put my hands on my head at one point and I think half of that was trying to recover and half of that was just pure disappointment.
“It looked about as pretty as it felt.
“As an athlete, it’s one of those things where you have a goal in mind and the goal is never to finish a race like that.
“I run 10ks every day, finishing 10ks isn’t a problem for me, it’s more so I wanted to put myself in medal contention and really finish strong, whether that resulted in a medal or not.”
His strategy was to give it his all.
Now, with nothing left, it is those around him who will help him recharge with his hope to run the 5,000m heats on Tuesday.
“I did give it everything I had, and more,” he said.
“It’s hard to go to that place, to dig that deep, and I’ve really felt that love from not only the [athletics] team today but just generally the entire Australian team.
“I’ve come to the Olympics and I’ve come short of the goal I wanted to achieve and there’s another opportunity for me to do that so I’d love to get back out there.
“We’ve just got to see how I feel at the end of today and tomorrow morning … it’s pretty raw still.
“It was only last night and my general rule is it takes 24 hours to get over a performance and you can feel down in the dumps and what not for that 24 hour period so I’m still in that window.
“And you know there’s a lot of internal things that I’m kind of battling with at the moment.
“I’ve got my close inner circle who I’ve been venting to and kind of voicing those frustrations but they’ve been reassuring me, you know, it was a great performance and so I’m trying to build off that and ultimately come to terms with the fact that it didn’t pan out how I wanted it to.
“I just ran out of juice, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
With the Paris games only three years away, Tiernan says there’s “no doubt” he’ll be there.
“Hopefully, I’ll give them something else to cheer about when we get there,” he said.
He thanks everyone for coming and slowly walks back through the athletes’ village security gate, alone with his thoughts again.
These are the priceless images of the Olympic games that too few get to see.