NEW YORK -- It wasn't Sydney with its opera house. It was Rockefeller Center, with a huge Christmas tree in the background, where Brandon Slay finally got his Olympic wrestling gold medal.
Instead of thousands of spectators watching from the stands, a couple hundred gathered behind barricades Wednesday, waving tiny American, South Korean and Turkish flags, many in bizarre getups designed to catch the TV camera's eye.
And, the Olympic flame had long been extinguished.
But this was historic because for the first time, a full medal presentation ceremony was held outside an Olympic venue.
"This is better than Sydney," Slay said. "More people, more Americans got to see it. It wasn't 1 o'clock in the morning, it was on at a more reasonable time."
Slay was awarded the gold in the 167'-pound class by the International Olympic Committee, which had stripped the medal from Germany's Alexander Leipold after he tested positive for the steroid nandrolone.
"I have a feeling of relief," said the 25-year-old from Amarillo, Texas, who learned a month ago that he would get the medal. "It's a feeling of completion, of closure."
Slay was not pleased by what happened in Sydney, when he climbed onto the podium and received a silver medal.
He lost 4-0 to Leipold on the final day of the Games on Oct. 1. He complained afterward that the referee had unfairly penalized him and had not allowed him to wrestle properly.
Leipold told him on the podium not to feel bad about not winning the gold because he was young and still had two more Olympics ahead of him.
"I wanted it now. I didn't want to wait four or eight years," Slay said. "But what really got to me, he didn't put his arm around me when he said it, he patted me on the head. I felt demeaned."
It was vastly different this time in a made-for-TV ceremony that was aired on NBC's "Today."
TV weather reporter Al Roker led Slay, silver-medal winner Moon Eui-jae of South Korea and bronze-medal winner Adem Bereket of Turkey to an Olympic-type podium set up in the street outside the show's studio. Moon finished third in the competition and Bereket fourth, but they moved up when Leipold was disqualified.
IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz draped the gold medal around Slay's neck and the national anthem was played.
DeFrantz played a major role in getting the IOC to approve the ceremony. She said the organization wanted to demonstrate its intention to reward athletes who abide by the rules and do not take performance-enhancing drugs.
"The IOC is very serious about making sure that athletes compete with integrity," she said.
USA Wrestling picked up the tab, estimated at about $15,000, for bringing the medal-winners to New York.
Steve Brunner, the organization's assistant executive director, said it was well worth it, considering the national TV exposure wrestling received.
"And, of course, the athletes got the recognition they deserve," he said.
Slay dedicated his medal to another U.S. champion who was shot to death while training for the 1996 Atlanta Games.
"This is for Dave Schultz, who sparked my Olympic dream," Slay said. "This is for him."
Schultz, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist and 1983 world champion, was shot to death on Jan. 26, 1996, by millionaire John E. du Pont on du Pont's suburban Philadelphia estate where Schultz was training.
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us