LA SEU D'URGELL, Spain -- The crowd was waiting for another great run from Jon Lugbill.
They wanted to see his distinctive paddling style, the one that is aggressive and fast and short on finesse. They wanted to watch him flail through the currents, boulders, and falls of a 340-meter course on the River Segree.
It never happened.
In the first Olympic white-water slalom competition in 20 years, the sport's best-known figure finished fourth yesterday in the men's single canoe race.
Lugbill, 31, from Bethesda, Md., had 118.62 points. His last run, which concluded the day of racing, was exciting until he was slowed by a monstrous current at the 15th gate, costing him a few seconds.
Czechoslovakia's Lukas Pollert, 22, won the gold in the men's canoe singles with 113.69, and Great Britain's Gareth Marriott, 22, won the silver with 116.48. France's Jacky Avril took the bronze with 117.18.
Overall, it wasn't a great day for the Americans in the men's single canoe and women's single kayak.
David Hearn, of Garrett Park, Md., a five-time silver medalist in World Cup competition, finished 11th, and teammate Adam Clawson, of Bryson City, N.C., was 21st.
Dana Chladek, 28, of Bethesda, won a bronze in the wome single kayak with a 131.75 score. Germany's Elisabeth Micheler scored 126.41 to win the gold, and Australia's Danielle Woodward took the silver with 128.27.
Hearn's sister, Cathy, finished ninth with 139.51.
But Lugbill was the talk of the day. Was he too old? Will h retire? Did he train hard enough? Had he competed in enough international events?
He's definitely at a crossroad.
"Pollert made a great run and Marriott has been tough all year," said Lugbill, a five-time individual world champion. "Why does it have to be me when someone else is doing something well? I know I'm better than I was five years ago.
"Will I retire? I don't know. I don't have any plans. I pointed everything toward this. We'll see," he added. "Wins and losses don't motivate me. As long as it's fun, I'll continue."
U.S. white-water coach Bill Endicott, Lugbill's longtime trainer, had a different perspective.
"Too bad the Olympics came at the end of our careers, and not in the middle, especially when there is so much young competition," said Endicott. "I think the handwriting is there. Jon trained really well, and works hard. He did his best, and that's all we can ask. He just came up a little short."
About two inches.
Lugbill actually had the best raw time on the course in his first run, but was assessed a five-second penalty for a gate touch, which left him in second place.
"You usually feel it when you touch," said Lugbill. "I felt nothing. I thought I had a really good run. It was seven-hundredths [of a second] faster than Pollert, who won, so if I hadn't touched that gate, it might have been a different game. I may have been getting a gold medal, at least a silver."
The man-made course here didn't fit his style. The water was hard and the course narrower than most around the world.
"I really haven't been successful with this type of course, but I did come over for about two weeks to work on it," said Lugbill. "Not competing internationally didn't hurt me because the trials were near the end of May and I just stayed home to practice with my own guys.
"I'm not worried about how history will judge me because of the Olympics. I've done the best I could for years."
Meanwhile, Chladek, who has won silver medals in the past two world championships, was leading the field after the first two runs, but she didn't know if it would hold up.
She also had problems with pre-competition jitters.
"I didn't feel that run would win," she said. "I thought people would go clean, and there were two women who did, so I was mainly trying to think about improving. I was in pretty good position to go for it, which I did. I was paddling pretty well in my second run until I blew out [gate] 14, so I was pretty satisfied with my race strategy."