The milliseconds and millimetres that decide Olympic sporting victories put into perspective our own struggles to construct the London 2012 venues
Success is sometimes measured in tiny shards of time; minute moments that can deceive the naked eye. Such was the measure of victory for Michael Phelps over Milorad Cavic in the 100m butterfly, where the watching world was certain that the Serbian had won - with his fingertips apparently touching the finishing pad while Phelps' arms were still overhead in mid-stroke.
But Phelps was not to be denied his seventh gold in seven days, and somehow all our eyes were mugged by his ugly chopped delivery overtaking the elegant finesse of Cavic's glide to the finish. Rebecca Adlington's victory in the 400m freestyle was similarly nail-biting.
A similarly narrow margin decided the fate of leading British fencer, Richard Kruse. The young man from Finchley - who has suffered both a broken hand and a twice-broken foot in his build-up to the Games - had a comfortable 15/6 victory over a potentially dangerous opponent in Virgil Saliscan of Roumania. This threw him up against Peter Joppich of Germany, world champion in 2003, 2006 and 2007 - not a good draw.
Bouts are usually won by one fencer being the first to score 15 hits, but there is a time limit of nine minutes. In this bout Joppich drew first blood before Kruse led 2-1, then a cat-and-mouse duel ensued with the German never more than two hits ahead.
He started with long attacks that blew through Kruse's defence; the taller Kruse then replied by outperforming the thrice world champion at close quarters. Towards the end of the nine minutes, the quality of cut and thrust was so imperious that every successful hit was like a master chess move. Kruse had the better of the later exchanges, equalising at nine-all.
Five of Britain's gold medals in Athens were won by a collective time of just 0.545 seconds. Five gold medals in a combined time that is faster than most of us can blink!
But there are no draws in fencing, and the sport has its own version of the golden goal, with the first fencer to score winning the bout in extra time. To avoid long stand-offs, a one-minute time limit is imposed and a toss of the coin gives one fencer priority (and victory if the scores are still even after 60 more seconds).
The priority went to Joppich, which meant that Kruse had to score a winning hit. Kruse tried desperately to tempt the German into making the mistake he needed to capitalise upon, and with just six seconds left he seduced Joppich into an attack which he outmanoeuvred and then launched a blistering running riposte. The hit was his for the taking, but Joppich wriggled his body to the side and although Kruse's point scuffed the German's torso it was not enough to register the point he needed.
The margin of this victory was no less narrow than Phelps' in the butterfly, but it was the champion in both cases that prevailed - as is so often the case. Five of Britain's gold medals in Athens - including Kelly Holmes in the 800m - were won by a collective time of just 0.545 seconds. Five gold medals in a combined time that is faster than most of us can blink!
As we wonder about our ability to construct the London Olympic venues in time for 2012, these precious splinters of time between success and failure put everything into perspective.
Graham Watts is performance director of the British fencing team and CEO of the Construction Industry Council.