Originally created 08/19/04

Bilonog wins shot put in wild finish, Nelson second



ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece -- Adam Nelson of Athens, Ga., remained in the shot put ring for three minutes, pointing and pleading, even as Yuriy Bilonog took the flag-draped victory lap that Nelson thought was his.

Nelson had led the entire competition, but Bilonog's final throw tied Nelson for the best of the day at 69 feet, 5 1/4 inches (21.16 meters). Nelson had one last chance to win, and the intense American unleashed a huge toss - but was called for his fifth consecutive foul.

Since Nelson had no other good throws and Bilonog had several, the Ukrainian won the gold Wednesday, leaving a stunned Nelson standing helplessly at the ancient site that birthed the Olympics 28 centuries ago.

Replays showed Nelson's foot clearly out of the ring. "They said I fouled. I didn't think I did, and they were right," Nelson said afterward.

"We showed him the video and he said, 'Sorry,"' said judge Dimitrios Karaflas.

It was the second straight Olympic silver medal for Nelson, a former defensive tackle at Dartmouth. Denmark's Joachim Olsen won the bronze.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia's Irina Korzhanenko became the first woman to win a gold medal at the aged venue, where the first games were held 2,780 years ago for men only.

She recording the three longest throws of the day, including the winning toss of 69-1 1/4 (21.06), the best in the world this year. Yumileidi Cumba of Cuba won the silver with a throw of 64-3 1/4 (19.59) on her last attempt, and Nadine Kleinert of Germany took the bronze.

Americans Kristin Heaston, the first woman to compete at the site when she opened the historic qualifying round, and U.S. teammate Laura Gerraughty failed to advance to the final. So did Astrid Kumbernuss of Germany, a three-time world champion and the 1996 Olympic gold medalist.

The American men had hoped for a medal sweep - U.S. men had the top 17 tosses in the world this year, all of them longer than Wednesday's gold-winning distance.

But two-time medalist John Godina failed to reach the final rounds. He fouled twice and then fell short on his final attempt, failing to make the final eight. Reese Hoffa couldn't advance past the morning qualifying session. And Chris Cantwell, who on May 6 recorded a world-leading 73 feet, 11 1/2 inches (22.54), didn't make it past the U.S. Olympic trials.

The shot put was 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.

Thousands of spectators sat beneath a blazing sun on grassy slopes that surrounded the large dirt oval pit. Forests of pine and laurel, ancient columns and ruins rested nearby.

"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."

An announcer reminded spectators they were in the same spot where the ancient Greeks watched their athletic heroes nearly 28 centuries ago, and encouraged fans 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.

Still, there were some nice touches, like hand-operated scoreboards. 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 modern games debuted here in 776 B.C.

The ancient games did not include the shot put, but had 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 said organizers could have made it even more authentic.

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