LONDON — Before arriving at the moment the razor-edged circumstances of his life often conspired to keep him from, Ellis Coleman bounced on his toes and sent shudders through his arms to loosen them. To his left and near the top of Section 418, his family unfurled a banner:
ELLIS COLEMAN. FLYING SQUIRREL. 2012 60kg OLYMPIAN. PRIDE OF THE HUSKIES.
His brother, Lillashawn, wore a flag as a cape and white sunglasses with lenses shaped like stars. His mother, Yolanda, earlier had beamed about seeing Buckingham Palace. All this through a family's force of will, despite the drug-dealing and gang-banging father types and the crammed apartments and the fundraiser it took to just get them here, on their second plane flight, ever.
But Ellis Coleman of Oak Park, Ill., stood on the mat alone. In minutes it all can get hollowed out and cold, as it did when Coleman lost his first Greco-Roman wrestling match, 1-0, 7-1, toBulgaria's Ivo Angelov and soon was eliminated from medal contention.
"It was just wrestling, and out there and at least getting a medal," Coleman said. "I wanted gold. Before the tournament started, I thought I could do it.
"Everybody has been through a lot all their life, each and every athlete has some adversity they had to overcome to get to where they are. Wrestling was my main focus, and despite whatever I had to go through, I'm here right now. This is the task at hand. And I didn't get it done."
There's victory in overcoming. Federal authorities deem his biological father a "career offender" who has 19 aliases. The man he calls his stepfather was a high-ranking gang "minister" released from prison in December. So it is true that it was a triumph just to be here. It is also true that Coleman worked years for this, battled through recent concussions, watched Usain Bolt and Gabrielle Douglas earn gold and imagined himself like them, and then lost in less time than it takes to check out at a grocery store.
"You never know if you get the opportunity again," Coleman said. "You never know. Anything can happen, any given day, any second. This was my chance today. I know that. I let it go."
Down three with seconds to go, a desperate Coleman attempted his dazzling Flying Squirrel maneuver, in which he leaps over an opponent to attempt a takedown. It missed. Angelov countered for three points.
Coleman has four years to hone his focus.
"I tried as hard as I could, I trained as hard as I could," Coleman said, "and there's nothing left that I can do now."