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American Nelson wins silver medal

8/18/2004

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."