Originally created 08/19/04

Hoffa's still hailed a hero



Spine-tingling, heart-warming, gut-wrenching. Elation, deflation and exhaustion.

In a matter of one wee hour of the morning, Steve Hoffa and Cathy McManus went through the full ringer of emotions as they watched on television their son, Reese, set feet, pace, compete, pace, succeed, pace, plead, pace and concede in the most historic sporting venue on earth.

Yet after Reese Hoffa failed to qualify for the finals of the Olympic men's shot put event on the sacred grounds of the ancient stadium at Olympia, Greece, each divorced parent in their respective homes felt the same unifying sentiment.

Unqualified pride.

"I'm so proud of my kid," Steve Hoffa said. "I'm overjoyed for him."

"It was amazing, it was wonderful," Cathy McManus said. "And Reese is still my hero. He's still an Olympian."

Hoffa failed to advance to the medal stage despite one of three throws that hit the distance required to automatically qualify. His second throw was ruled a foot fault for apparently brushing the end of the circle, though the crude broadcast crew in the ancient stadium failed to keep a lens on his feet and focused only on his celebration turned dejection.

"I thought he was in, and I went through the ceiling," his father said. "I'm sure they heard me a mile down the road."

"I was out of my chair yelling," said his mother. "Then when I saw his face, it caught my heart because I knew something was not right."

After his final throw fell short, Hoffa and his coaches pleaded his case - through a translator - for about a half-hour to the judges, but their official protest fell on deaf ears. Hoffa apparently only got to take one of his two allotted warm-up throws before the qualifying began.

Fellow American shot putters Adam Nelson and John Godina qualified for the finals. Nelson later won the silver medal.

"They'd been in that arena, if not that stadium, before," Hoffa's father said of Hoffa's veteran U.S. teammates. "The experience showed there. Reese will learn and be ready the next time. No doubt he'll be there in 2008."

Hoffa's parents, siblings and friends suspended a night of sleep to watch him take part in one of the showcase moments in the 2004 Olympic Games. The shot put event kicked off the track and field portion of the games as the only event held in the same rustic stadium amid the grassy hillsides and ruins where the first Olympics took place for 11 centuries starting in 776 B.C.

The qualifying was broadcast live on MSNBC, and the men took the storied pitch just before 3 a.m, EDT. Steve Hoffa and his new wife, Vicki, had 15 to 20 friends and family at their house in Augusta. Cathy McManus watched with her husband, Gene, and daughter at their home in Martinez.

Seeing their son pace the same sun-splashed ground where the ancient Greek men competed nude sent a chill halfway around the world.

"I wasn't there but just watching I could feel that that was awesome," Steve Hoffa said. "There was history all over the place. Then to see your son on TV throwing there, I told my wife to pinch me. It didn't seem real.

"It was like a dream. I'm very seldom at a loss for words, but that got me."

Said Cathy McManus: "It was almost too exciting. I thought this is beyond real."

For the next hour it was all too real as Reese was the center of attention. Between throws he paced around the dirt stadium trying to deal with his excitement and nerves in the once-in-a-thousand-lifetimes moment.

"With all that history around, it gives you goose bumps," his father said. "That had to be a pressure in itself."

When his second throw hit the mark, Reese leaped in joy only to see the red flag raised signifying a fault.

"That throw he made was great," said his mother.

With all the pressure on his last toss, Hoffa came up well short - placing 22nd and 10 places out of the final. Unwilling to give up without a fight, Hoffa argued with an official for another throw as the cameras looked on. His disappointment was evident.

"I hated it for him," said his father.

At home in Georgia, the phone started ringing at Steve Hoffa's house shortly after 4 a.m. and a few people showed up at the door with the sunrise. It seems very few people who knew the former Lakeside High athlete got much sleep.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.