LONDON — DeeDee Trotter was the picture of American patriotism after winning a bronze medal in the 400 meters on Sunday night.
The former Tennessee track star came through the mix zone in her red track suite with an American flag draped over her left shoulder, accenting the red, silver and blue glitter bursts that ran from beside her eyes through her temples.
Trotter’s dream, of course, had been to win the gold medal in front of the Olympic Stadium crowd of 80,000 on this clear, cool night.
But after everything the 29-year-old Trotter had to go through to make it back for a third Olympics appearance, the reality of her season best time of 49.72 seconds sat just fine with her.
“Bronze, it’s my first individual medal of my career,’’ said Trotter, who won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens as part of the 4x400 relay team. “I’ve worked the hardest I’ve had to work in my career and in my life, and I have sacrificed so much to be here today.
“I’m very blessed to be here, and it’s a phenomenal day for me.’’
Trotter was side-by-side with USA teammate Sanya Richards-Ross and Great Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu after the runners funneled out of the final turn, set for the sprint to the finish.
“I saw myself really coming off that last 150 (meters) like a maniac, and I had that gold medal in my grasp,’’ Trotter said. “I saw it, I really wanted it, and I was working for it.
“Sanya came home strong, we were fighting it out that last 30 or 50 meters, and then Christine came in the last five or 10 meters and nipped me at the line.’’
Richards-Ross finished in 49.55, while Ohuruogu edged Trotter in a photo-finish at 49.70.
Trotter could smile because she knew she left her best on the track. She said she will leave London with no worries, knowing that she went about her training the right way.
“Test me, I’m clean,’’ Trotter said after the race. “I know it will be a medal that will be in the history books forever — no worries there.
“I’m a clean athlete, I’m very proud to say that, and I’m very proud to have this flag and these three letters (USA) on my chest.’’
Trotter bounced back from heartbreak at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where a knee injury prevented her from advancing beyond the semifinals of the 400.
In Athens, Trotter made the 400 finals but could place no better than fifth.
Trotter served notice these Olympics would be different for her in Saturday morning’s semifinals, circling the track in an eye-opening 49.87 that rated her fastest time since 2007.
Sunday night, Trotter was even faster, leading many to wonder what might still be ahead in her career.
“I’ve got a couple of races left in Europe, finishing up the circuit,’’ she said, “and then I’ll bring it back home and celebrate with my friends and family.’’
Trotter, who moved from Knoxville to Orlando, Fla., in October, won the NCAA outdoors 400 as a junior with the Lady Vols in 2004.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics and is part of the Scripps team covering the Olympics. Follow at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32