American Nelson wins silver medal

Updated: August 18, 2004, 8:31 PM ET
Associated Press

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece -- Congratulations turned to condolences for Adam Nelson on Wednesday when his foul-filled finish handed the shot put gold medal to Ukraine's Yuriy Bilonog, capping an underachieving day for the American favorites at the birthplace of the Olympics.

Two-time Olympic medalist John Godina, a Cheyenne, Wyo., Central graduate, fouled twice and finished ninth.

Nelson led the entire competition, but Bilonog's final throw tied Nelson for the best of the day at 69 feet, 5¼ inches (21.16 meters). Nelson had one last chance to win, and the intense American unleashed a golden toss -- but was called for his fifth consecutive foul.

Bilonog was declared champion because his next-best throw was better. Denmark's Joachim Olsen took the bronze with a throw of 69-1½ (21.07).

After the foul was called, Nelson remained helplessly in the shot put ring for three minutes, pointing and pleading with officials, even as Bilonog took the flag-draped victory lap that the former Dartmouth defensive tackle thought was his.

Nelson later sobbed on his wife's shoulder and covered his face with an American flag, his shirt caked with dust from the place where the Olympics were born 28 centuries ago.

"When you compete at the level that I aspire to compete at, there's nothing but the best you shoot for. The silver medal is a great piece of hardware, but it keeps me around for another four years," said Nelson, 29, a laurel wreath resting uncomfortably on his head.

While parading before the crowd with his second consecutive Olympic silver medal, Nelson paused to look at the mark in the dirt he thought was his gold-medal spot. Replays showed Nelson's foot clearly out of the ring, and he apologized to officials after being told of the obvious foul.

"I didn't feel the foul. I'm sure it would have been far enough," Nelson said. "If I got the right pock mark out there, I think it would have been far enough. Yeah, I looked at it."

Nelson's medal saved a wipeout for an American trio that had hoped for a sweep. U.S. men have the top 17 tosses in the world this year -- all of them farther than Wednesday's gold standard.

Godina advanced out of the qualifying round but he failed to go far int he finals after fouling twice and being left him with a toss of 66-3. Reese Hoffa couldn't advance past the morning qualifying session. And Chris Cantwell, who has the longest throw in the world this year, didn't make it past the U.S. Olympic trials.

The shot put was held at this former religious sanctuary about 200 miles southwest of Athens, two days before the rest of the track and field competition begins Friday at the Olympic stadium in the nation's capital.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia's Irina Korzhanenko became the first woman to win a gold medal at the "sacred" venue. The original Olympics were for men only.

Thousand of spectators sat beneath a blazing sun on grassy slopes that surrounded the oval dirt field. The scoreboard was operated by hand. Strong winds during the women's final kicked up storms of sand and dust.

Korzhanenko, who slapped her face with both hands before throws, recorded the three longest heaves of the day -- including the winning toss of 69-1¼ (21.06), the best in the world this year. Yumileidi Cumba of Cuba won the silver with a throw of 64-3 (19.59) on her last attempt, and Nadine Kleinert of Germany took the bronze.

Americans Kristin Heaston, the first woman to compete at the site when she opened the historic qualifying round, and Laura Gerraughty failed to advance to the final. So did Astrid Kumbernuss of Germany, a three-time world champion and the 1996 Olympic gold medalist.

Even the ancients would have appreciated Nelson's performance in the shot put, a mixture of drama, intensity, athleticism and even a little unintentional comedy.

Nelson goes through a carefully choreographed routine before each throw. He delicately puts his towel on the ground, then stomps about a dozen steps in front of the throwing ring. He puffs out his cheeks, turns to stare at the start, wipes his face, paces and prowls, then implores the crowd to start clapping.

Next Nelson takes a series of short hops and runs toward the ring, tossing aside his shirt along the way, before he picks up his shot and throws.

On his second attempt, after all that buildup, Nelson dropped the shot -- something he says he hadn't done since he was 12. It traveled all of six inches. On his third attempt, Nelson spun out of the ring and landed at a judge's feet, drawing laughs from the crowd.

"I was fired up, this is the kind of place I love," he said. "I just didn't have my timing today."

It was the first competition at the site since 393 A.D., when the ancient Olympics were abolished by the Roman emperor Theodosius as a pagan practice. The first recognized Olympics were here in 776 B.C.

The ancient games did not include the shot put, but had similar tests of strength. Those men competed in the nude, slathered with olive oil.

This time, the competitors wore uniforms -- and Australia's Justin Anlezark said organizers could have made it even more authentic.

"It's brilliant," he said, "but they should have given us rocks to throw."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press