Adam Nelson, gold-medal winner.
More than seven years after he competed and won a silver medal in the shot put in the Athens Summer Olympics, Nelson may receive the gold. The winner, Ukraine’s Yuriy Bilonog, was recently found to have used performance-enhancing drugs.
Nelson, a native of Atlanta who attended The Lovett School, said he hasn’t celebrated. He compared it to winning a lifetime achievement award posthumously.
“(The emotions) are a lot more tempered that I ever thought I’d be when I found out I won a gold medal in the Olympics,” Nelson said.
Nelson didn’t win gold at Ancient Olympia Stadium because he lost a tiebreaker to Bilonog. Both athletes’ best throws traveled 21.16 meters. But Bilonog took the gold because his second-best throw was longer than Nelson’s.
Nelson talks dispassionately about the medals, saying his motivation has been the personal challenge and representing his country. He keeps his two silver medals (he won one in Sydney in 2000) in a sock drawer.
But his voice does rise slightly when he begins discussing not getting to stand atop the podium and hearing his nation’s anthem.
“I’ve won meets and heard my national anthem on but it’s not the same,” he said. “That experience in Athens was truly remarkable. It was the first time competing in that ancient stadium in 2000 years. It was the birthplace of the Olympics and where the movement was founded.
“To be robbed of that moment and that experience is something that can never be replaced.”
But Nelson, 37 and retired as an athlete, isn’t bitter. He feels validated.
When he was 16 years old, he and his father talked about integrity in sports. It was then he decided that he was going to compete the right way, with no shortcuts.
“It certainly validates the career that I’ve had and how much time I spent training,” said Nelson, who now lives outside of Athens. “More than anything, from my standpoint, it sends a message about the importance of doing things the right way. When you do things the right way, things tend to work out. I wasn’t happy with getting the silver medal, but I knew I had done it the right way.”
Nelson suspected that Bilonog may have been doping because one of his training partners had issues. But, like the decision to compete with integrity, Nelson knew he couldn’t focus on the negative, saying he’s seen other athletes do that and it ruined their careers.
“At some point you have to decide who you are as a person and if you are willing to compromise your own standards of greatness,” he said. “Now I’m being rewarded for what we expect our Olympics athletes to do: to train with integrity and do things the right way.”