Shattered crew-mates apologised to an emotional Anthony Edwards as the five-time Olympian's glittering rowing career ended in heart-break at Eton Dorney on Thursday.
Edwards' world champion crew were desperate to give the 39-year-old the only major international medal he hasn't achieved - Olympic gold - in the final of the lightweight four.
But despite a rousing first 1500m, where they narrowly trailed the Danish favourites, Australia were overwhelmed in the final 250m as South Africa stormed through from fourth for an historic rowing triumph.
Fellow Tasmanian Sam Beltz said just one word to Edwards as the devastated quartet moored their boat: "Sorry".
But it wasn't required.
"I think in that last 250 I've never wanted something so desperately," said Edwards, who fought back tears. "We just had nothing left.
"We couldn't have done anything more.
"Fourth is a horrible position to come.
"We are gutted. But you walk away and say you gave it everything you had. It was just an incredible race and an incredible event.
"We always knew that if we rowed our best race that it would take an exceptional crew to beat us and there were three today."
Beltz also felt injury niggles in their preparations also took their toll.
A bronze medallist in his 1996 Olympic debut in Atlanta, and silver-medallist in Sydney and Athens, Edwards confirmed it was his last race in a 20-year international career.
He also said that after Beijing four years ago following the frustration of a terrible campaign but the torment forced him back.
It was a comeback that was well worth it, capped by last year's world championship triumph in Slovenia.
"The last three years have been the most enjoyable three years of my rowing career."
"I think somewhere along the line it'll hit me with a thud."
The fairytale story of Australia's women's eight also ended in tears on Thursday as the self-proclaimed "Motley Crew" finished last in their London Games final.
The big boat, mothballed after the Beijing Games, was only recommissioned in April and their Olympic qualification in May was one of Australia's feel-good Games stories.
But it ended with a sobering result - the same as the past two Olympics where more highly-touted eights crews bombed out badly in their finals - as defending champions USA took gold from Canada.
The bright light for Australia was Kim Crow who booked her second Olympic finals berth after cruising through the semi-finals of the single sculls.
Drew Ginn's men's four and the lightweight double sculls crew of Hannah Every-Hall and Bronwen Watson will also be in Saturday finals after taking top-three spots.
Most semi-final interest surrounded the men's four battle between Britain's flagship boat and Ginn's new foursome but it was the host nation who took round one in their Ashes showdown with a late charge to win by almost half a length.
Unlike what Australia can manage, Team GB are expecting a big medal haul on Lake Dorney and successfully qualified all 13 of their boats for finals.