Nelson '97 narrowly misses shot put gold

by Lindsay Barnes | 8/19/04 5:00am

The track and field gods were not with Athens, Ga., native Adam Nelson '97 in Wednesday's Olympic men's shot put finals at the ancient Olympic stadium. In a nail-biting competition, Yuriy Bilonog of the Ukraine tied Nelson's best attempt of 21.16 meters in the sixth and final round. This forced officials to go to the tie-breaking second-best attempts and give the gold to Bilonog whose second-best throw of 21.15 meters bettered Nelson.

Nelson set the initial mark to beat in the first round of throws, putting him in first place, barely in front of Bilonog who had a first round throw of 21.15 meters.

The tension built as Nelson couldn't register a legal throw in the next two rounds while Bilonog continued to come close to Nelson's distance with throws of 21.15 and 21.07 meters in the second and third rounds, respectively.

Heart rates stayed in the red through the fourth and fifth round while Bilonog and Nelson both failed to register valid attempts, as Nelson clung to his one-centimeter lead.

Finally, in a display of true grit, Bilonog dug deep and made his last throw his best, matching Nelson's first round throw, putting all the pressure squarely on the former Big Green defensive lineman's broad shoulders.

Knowing he had to make a throw of at least 21.17 meters, he reared back and catapulted the shot for what looked to be gold medal distance. But upon inspecting the video replay of the toss, judges ruled that his foot was once again outside of the ring. Nelson's fifth-straight foul secured the gold medal for Bilonog and the silver for himself.

The bronze medal went to Joachim Olsen of Denmark who hurled the shot 21.07 meters in his best attempt.

Nelson's medal is the first track and field medal for the United States in these Olympic Games.

In a press conference following the medal ceremony, Nelson said, "It's hard to lose. I didn't throw well today. There was always something happening with me."

Indeed, Nelson's best toss Monday fell well short of his personal best of 21.95 meters that he set at the 2002 Grand Prix in Eugene, Ore. However, Nelson has been dogged by injury since developing tendonitis in his ankle in Nov. 2002 and sustaining a back injury in Aug. 2003.

But Nelson refused to blame anyone or anything but himself, saying, "The second throw I lost the shot off my neck. The third throw I got distracted just as I was starting to throw and I started to slip. That is not acceptable at this level and if you do that you aren't going to win. You have to respond when the competition comes back. I didn't have that today and that's a big disappointment."

In a show of sportsmanship, Nelson said of Bilonog, "My hat's off to Yuriy and the other guys who competed hard. They were solid the entire competition. I just didn't follow up."

This is the second medal in as many Olympiads for Nelson, as he also took silver in the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.

This final for the ages unfolded on hallowed grounds at the ancient stadium in Olympia, site of the original Olympics of ancient Greece. It was the first time Olympic competition had been held there in over 1600 years.

Prior to competition, Nelson remarked at how awed he was by the picturesque and historic location. "This is better than anything I could have dreamed of. This facility is absolutely world class. It has been for thousands of years, so why would it change now?"

Following the competition, he again remarked how much he loved the venue, saying, "The Olympic spirit really lives long here. It is probably the greatest place I have ever competed."