Adam Nelson finally takes top medal
HELSINKI, Finland -- No more silver for Adam Nelson. At last, he has gold.
After second-place finishes in two Olympics, two outdoor world championships and one indoor world meet, Nelson won the shot put competition on Saturday night with his best throw in three years -- 71 feet, 3½ inches.
"I don't know if the best person won," U.S. teammate Christian Cantwell said, "but I think the right person won."
Nelson's triumph in light rain capped the opening day at the world track and field championships. The night featured an Ethiopian sweep in the women's 10,000 meters and a breezy stroll through the first two rounds of the 100 by Olympic champion Justin Gatlin.
One of the sport's best showmen, Nelson had the Finnish crowd in cozy Olympic Stadium on his side all night with his usual routine. He paced like a mad bull, ripped off his T-shirt and flung it dramatically to the ground, then with a crazed stare, stepped into the ring for his throw.
"I didn't even notice the rain," Nelson said. "I thought it was sunny all day long. The Finnish people just gave me the energy, and I didn't even worry about the little sprinkles that we were feeling."
Nelson couldn't have done it without eBay. In dire need of financial support, Nelson offered himself for sale online, and earned a $25,000 sponsorship deal from the highest bidder, Medivox-Rx, a company that markets a talking prescription bottle.
"That really helped me out for the first half of the year and allowed me to pay for the training to get to this point," he said.
Nelson has tried not to dwell on the near-misses of the past, none more painful than last year's Olympics, when the shot put was held at Olympia, site of the ancient Greek games. Nelson led the entire competition before Ukraine's Yuriy Bilonoh tied him with his final throw, and won the gold because of a better second toss.
After everyone else had finished Saturday night, Nelson knew he had won when he prepared for his final turn.
"I've been knocking on the door for a long time," he said. "I've had so many close calls. When I stepped in the circle for my last throw, all the memories that I tried to block out, they all came back to me, and I thought 'This is what it's all about."'
Americans had hoped for a sweep, but Nelson was the lone medalist. Cantwell fouled four times and finished fifth, and John Godina, seeking a fourth world title, failed to make it through the qualifying round. Godina said his body just couldn't come through after injuries to his foot, both elbows and his throwing hand. He also came down with a stomach virus twice, most recently last week in England.
"You do what you can and obviously today, that was not a heck of a lot," he said.
Tirunesh Dibaba led the Ethiopian sweep in the 10,000, winning at the tender age of 19 with a time of 30 minutes, 24.02 seconds. Her older sister Ejegayehu was third, and defending champion Berhane Adere was second.
With a strong wind in his face, Gatlin was the slowest of the heat winners in the quarterfinals at 10.27 seconds -- only 10th-fastest among the 16 semifinal qualifiers.
"I'm a little bummed that we had a strong head wind like we did," Gatlin said. "I haven't run that slow in a long time."
Still, Gatlin was satisfied.
"I'm still dominant, and that's what matters," he said. "If the weather permits, it's going to be a very fast time. But rain, sleet, snow it doesn't matter. I'm going to go out and try to win a gold medal."
Gatlin's U.S. teammate and training partner Shawn Crawford struggled to qualify ninth at 10.25. Crawford, Olympic gold medalist in the 200 and bronze medalist in the 100, has withdrawn from the 200 because of an injured left foot. He said he had only been training seriously for the past week.
"I've been out for a while, so I'm trying to get my wheels back under me," he said.
The third U.S. sprinter in the event, Leonard Scott, also advanced in 10.19. Defending world champion Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis barely made the semifinals as the final qualifier with a time of 10.32. The fastest in the second round was Darrel Brown in 10.10.
In the first final event of the championships, Jefferson Perez -- the pride of Ecuador -- defended his title in the 20-kilometer walk. Perez has been revered in his home country since 1996, when he won the gold in Atlanta to become the first athlete from Ecuador to win an Olympic medal. He has been officially designated a national hero, honored with a stamp and given a generous lifetime pension.
Through four events of the heptathlon, Eunice Barber of France clung to a two-point lead over reigning Olympic and world champion Carolina Kluft of Sweden, who overcame a sore foot to climb back into contention with a personal best in the shot put.
Godina was not the only big name to leave the stadium in disappointment. Olympic high jump champion Yelena Slesarenko withdrew from the meet before the qualifying round because of an injured left ankle. She found the pain too great during warmups, and sat on the track sobbing for several minutes before walking out of the stadium.
Another unexpected casualty was Kenya's Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, who had three of the five fastest times in the world but failed to advance to the finals in the 1,500.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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