Hoffa, a former world champion from Lakeside High School and the University of Georgia, claimed the bronze medal Friday night in the shot put at the London Olympics. His best throw of 21.23 meters fell short of his qualifying throw in the morning and was 14 inches behind repeat gold medalist Tomasz Majewski of Poland (21.89).
Germany’s David Storl narrowly settled for the silver medal at 21.86.
American Christian Cantwell, the bronze medalist in Beijing in 2008, came up just short of Hoffa with 21.19 on his final throw to finish fourth.
“All in all, I’m proud of him,” said Steve Hoffa, his father, who lives in Grovetown and watched the live feed on a friend’s iPad at work. “It’s not the gold, but a medal’s a medal. If he’s not, he should be very proud of himself.”
Hoffa, competing in his third Olympics, dubbed this a “legacy event” for him. His mother, Cathy McManus of Martinez, was in the stands in London and was shown on NBC’s afternoon broadcast giving her son a hug after the morning qualifying.
Hoffa has said he will not compete in 2016 in Brazil, so London would be his final chance to win some Olympic hardware.
He entered Friday night’s final as the favorite after leading the qualifying with a single throw of 21.36 meters (70 feet, 1 inch). Before July, Hoffa held the three longest throws in the world this year, including 22.00 meters in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.
Hoffa had hoped to win the first U.S. gold in the men’s shot put since Randy Barnes in 1996 at Atlanta. He and his fellow Americans, who have medaled each Olympics since but not claimed gold, got little sympathy from two-time winner Majewski.
“Americans got a bit of a problem for the Olympics the last 20 years,” Majewski said. “They’ve got great guys, great athletes, but they can’t win gold in the Olympics. Sorry.”
Hoffa’s stated gameplan to hit his first throw didn’t go as well in the evening finals at London’s Olympic Stadium.
He failed to pass the 21-meter line on his first two throws, settling immediately into third place behind linear throwers Majewski and Storl. His third throw hit 21.23 meters and held up. He kept gesturing to throwing coach Don Babbitt that his trajectory was too low, but he couldn’t improve on his final three throws.
“It looked like the problem he was having was he couldn’t get the pitch on it that he wanted,” his father said. “He’s always told me that the Olympics is an entirely different kind of stress and pressure. But irregardless, I’m proud of him and think he did a great job.”
Majewski ended the competition in style with the longest throw of the day on his sixth and final attempt after the gold was already secured by 1 centimeter over Storl.
Hoffa said before traveling to London that he would be satisfied with any color medal, but it was not the result expected after qualifying.
His initial toss sailed easily past the automatic qualifying arc, coming down at 21.36 meters. It ranked the best of the 12 who advanced, 8 inches longer than Storl.
“His first throw out of the qualifying round, he popped a good one,” Steve Hoffa said. “Probably deep down, like any true athlete, they want to be No. 1 and take the gold. But he’s 34 years old and thinking about retiring. At least that last effort he got a medal. I’m sure there’s a little bit of disappointment but a whole lot of pride.”
American teammates Ryan Whiting and Cantwell advanced to the finals along with Hoffa’s practice partner in Athens, Ga., Ming-Huang Chang of Taiwan. Whiting finished ninth and Chang 12th.
Hoffa plans to retire after trying to win another world championship next year. For now, his family is eager to celebrate his crowning career achievement when he returns to Georgia after the Olympics.
“Heck yeah,” said Hoffa’s stepmother, Vicki, who struggled to follow the results online at home in Grovetown. “How many people come away even with a bronze? We’re just very excited for him. He’s got a room full of medals, but this bronze will take a high place in that room.”
His father is looking forward to the reunion to get to hold the medal.
“I’ll be tickled to death to see what it looks like,” his father said. “I’ve never held one or even got close to one. He’s done a lot for the sport, and I’m sure he’ll move on now to bigger and better things for his wife and his family.”