Sport can be brutal, none more so when the Hangman cometh. Sarah McKay’s exit from the Great Britain squad was the cruellest cut of all.

Athletes dream for years, a lifetime even, of making an Olympics. Blood, sweat and not a little toil are expended. Some, the Usain Bolts and Michael Phelps among them, are lucky enough to earn healthy sums along the way.

The majority toil in relative obscurity and impecunity, getting by, pushing themselves to the limit, and for what? For the love of the game, for sure. More though, it’s down to the competitive desire within, and the carrot that one day there will be the reward of putting every day’s worth of toil into practice in front of a global audience.

One time, one stage, one gargantuan reward for everything.

On Thursday, the prospect of payback for McKay, the Canadian-born centre, ended. But while the 12 good women and true who survive all the way to London will take their applause, give McKay her due now.

Because, when all is said and done, she was never supposed to get this far. She should have been sat on a beach, in a bar, some place else, observing from the stands rather than giving everything she had left, only to come up short.

I spoke to the affable adopted Londoner ahead of camp. She was buoyant then. Confident of making a return after three years outside the team. Feeling bright. But overhead was hanging a cloud.

Seven knee surgeries. And a whole world of potential trouble.

“I’m in constant pain but I’m so used to it that it doesn’t really faze me,” she revealed three weeks ago.

McKay in full flow in 2009 (BB)

“Especially when you’re in a game, you just don’t think about it. I went through a conditioning session and Nick  (Grantham, GB’s trainer) asked me how I felt. I said: ‘awesome, but ask me again in 20 minutes and it will be different.’ Once you’re in the moment, the adrenaline takes over. If only you could bottle it.”

Despite all that, the weeks of rehab after the years lost, the Indiana grad was prepared to go on pushing and fighting and scrapping.

That’s just how it is.

“It’s not a question of whether I want to put myself through it,” she confided. “Someone will have to tell me to stop.“

Most doctors would have long urged her to give up the ghost and accept her fate. Two surgeries ago, with her left knee fitted with an extra ligament, the bookies in scrubs offered their odds on a recovery.

Just 30 per cent.

McKay recalled: “They said: ‘we can’t make any promises. It really just depends on how your body reacts to what we’ve done’.”

Then, they did the right knee as well.

“They went: ‘this doesn’t happen. No-one has this on both knees and still plays.’ I knew that if I didn’t give it a shot, I’d always regret it. The fact I’ve got this far is lucky and almost miraculous.”

It was her choice, and hers alone. This was a self-inflicted punishment. It was illogical but at the same time, the only realistic option. Otherwise it would all have been for nothing.

“The Olympics has been a goal as long as I remember,” she declared. “To be that close to reaching this summer and go: ‘it might hurt so I won’t do it makes no sense.’”

It’s no longer close. The door has been shut. The battle has been proud but in vain. London’s Games will come and go without McKay parading by.

When you see GB women marching, schedule permitting, through the Stratford Stadium in July, spare a second’s thought for their comrade-in-arms, watching and cheering from elsewhere.

It was not talent that cost her a spot. Just a uncooperative body that didn’t get it – and eventually got out.

But if this tale is meant to make you feel sympathy, then hold it there. There’s no doubt she’d do it all again. And it should serve to inspire, not depress.

It is the end of one adventure and the start of another.

On Thursday, hours after the cuts, Sarah posted an announcement on her Facebook. I hope she won’t mind if I print it here.

“Time for a new dream, and I know one thing – it’ll be big!”

After such courage in adversity, you would expect nothing less. Screw the Hangman.

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