Originally created 08/19/04

Hoffa fails to qualify in shot put

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece -- Two U.S. men advanced to the final of the shot put Wednesday, hoping to make even more history at the ancient site that gave birth to the Olympics 2,780 years ago.

Adam Nelson had the best qualifying throw of 69-4 3/4 (21.15 meters) and John Godina threw 67-4 1/4 (20.5 meters). Lakeside High and University of Georgia graduate Reese Hoffa failed to qualify for the final, ending U.S. hopes of a medal sweep.

The shot put is being 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.

"It's a privilege and honor to compete here," Nelson said. "There's something special about this place. It's a reminder of where it all began."

The venue is spare by modern Olympic standards, a large dirt oval surrounded by grassy slopes filled with spectators, and forests of pine and laurel. Ancient columns and ruins sit nearby.

An announcer reminded spectators they were sitting in the same spots from which the ancient Greeks watched their athletic heroes nearly 28 centuries ago, and encouraged the fans before the start of competition to "sit in silence and feel the mystical powers of this sacred place."

If they closed their eyes and ears for a moment, the spectators could imagine the priestess of Hera sitting on her stone throne - that is, if they could block out the dozens of TV cameras, incessantly ringing cell phones and canned Greek mood music during breaks.

American Kristin Heaston opened the historic qualifying round, becoming the first woman to compete at the ancient site.

Heaston, who along with U.S. teammate Laura Gerraughty failed to advance to the final, said she might have been focused too much on the unique setting and not on her performance.

"It was awesome, I just wish I had done better," said Heaston, a strength coach at Stanford. "As you can see, I probably needed to think about what I was doing more in the ring than to think about the history."

Only men competed at the ancient games, which did not include the shot put but did have similar tests of strength. Those men, who competed in the nude, were slathered with olive oil. This time, the competitors wore uniforms.

"Clothing's nice. You guys wouldn't want us to throw naked," Godina said with a laugh.

Australia's Justin Anlezark, who also advanced to the final, said organizers could have made it even more authentic.

"It's brilliant, but they should have given us rocks to throw," he said.

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 Olympics debuted here in 776 B.C.

Still, there were some nice touches at the site. The scoreboards were operated by hand. Writers sat cross-legged on the grass, working without electricity or phone lines. Competitors' screams and grunts filled the morning air.

Twelve women advanced to the final. The best throw of the morning was 64-7 1/4 (19.69) by Nadezhda Ostapchuk of Belarus.

Among those failing to qualify for the final was Astrid Kumbernuss of Germany, a three-time world champion and the 1996 Olympic gold medalist.


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