While most Augustans are punching the clock and settling into their offices this morning, Reese Hoffa will be taking the first shot at Olympics track and field gold.
The shot put competition kicks off the track and field portion of the Beijing Olympics, and the Lakeside High grad has been pretty much the poster man for American track and field.
Hoffa's face and body -- which he calls "a few doughnuts shy of 315 pounds" -- has been plastered on banners around China for months. He's on the cover of a video game. He's been featured in promos and on talk shows. Many major publications, including USA Today and ESPN The Magazine, have tracked him down to hear his unique life story.
And all of this started long before Hoffa even officially qualified for the U.S. team this summer. The last weeks before today's competition have been calm in comparison.
"Right up to the Olympic Trials I was busy all the time," Hoffa said before departing to China. "It was crazy. It's definitely slowed down a little more since."
The pressure was on Hoffa to make the squad or become another Dan O'Brien -- the decathlete, famously portrayed in the "Dan and Dave" ad campaign for Reebok in 1992, who failed to qualify for the games in Barcelona.
"I didn't want to be that guy," Hoffa said. "I tried very hard to make sure everything went to form."
That preparation has always been Hoffa's strength since he broke Lakeside's school record the first throw he ever made. Along with his coach since the University of Georgia, Don Babbitt, Hoffa trains meticulously to hone his technique and execution. It is what has allowed him to excel in fields generally comprised of taller men.
"What sets him apart from other throwers is his attention to details," Babbitt said. "Others think they do, but he really does."
His adopted mother, Cathy McManus, said her son stays grounded in a sports world that demands the exceptional.
"When he sets his goals, he doesn't set it over and beyond," she said. "He sets it a few inches at a time. That makes it more gettable. Even in school with his grades, he never tried for the A-plus. He tried for the best grades he could get and he did it. That way he never felt like he was let down. He had great dreams, but he was so realistic with them."
While his simple quest to win one gold medal hardly puts him in the glare like American swimmer Michael Phelps, Hoffa has become a media favorite with his background story, personality and idiosyncrasies. The latter category includes juggling, solving Rubik's cubes in less than a minute, once throwing in a mask, parading with a turkey leg and practicing gymnastics on the chance he might get to display a new victory celebration should he be lucky enough to win the gold medal.
"I don't really think of myself as a star," Hoffa said. "I'm a media darling in some ways and that takes some getting used to. Having the attention on me in a way makes me a little uncomfortable, but I just kind of worked my way into that role. I've embraced the role, and I'm having so much fun."
Along with his American teammates Christian Cantwell and Adam Nelson, Hoffa still has a lot of expectations to contend with when they take the field in the smog-shrouded National Stadium. The ever-present talk of a potential red-white-and-blue sweep of the gold, silver and bronze medals has reached a point much greater than in 2004 when Hoffa failed to advance to the medal round. The U.S. hasn't swept the shot put medals since 1960.
The three Americans are the only ones in the competition to have each thrown farther than 22 meters -- not only this year but in their careers. Only twice has the 22-meter mark been surpassed in the Olympics.
"This is their best shot at sweeping," Babbitt said. "They're at their peak, and the main competition has probably seen their better days or hasn't gotten there yet."
But Hoffa has tried to keep some of the hype at bay. He's won world outdoor and indoor championships, but he's yet to shine on the stage that turns athletes into superstars.
"Some are trying to equate me with Bruce Jenner and Al Oerter and all these icons of U.S. track and field," Hoffa said. "I'm thinking I've got to do more than just be a world champion if you're going to equate me to Olympic champions. If I pull off winning the Olympic gold you can put me in there, but I still feel like I've got to do a little more. They figured out a way to transcend just track and field and parlayed their experiences into something that not only the normal person but the business world could get into. Say their names and people automatically know who they are."
This morning is Hoffa's chance to let the world know who he is and what he's capable of doing with a 16-pound ball.
In his families' homes from Martinez to Harlem to Jacksonville, Fla., and in living rooms and offices all over the world, they'll be watching to see what the young man from Lakeside can accomplish.
"I'm not taking a chance on missing anything," said Steve Hoffa, who took two days off work to celebrate the pinnacle of his son's career. "When he wins something, stand back out of the way."
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.
'SHOT' AT THE GOLD
On his first attempt Thursday in Beijing, Reese Hoffa qualified for the today's finals in shot put. The current world champion had a throw of 20.41 meters. He finished fourth in the Group A qualifying round.