This spring, the career of shot putter Adam Nelson (Darden ’08) was rewritten.
Nelson, a two-time Olympian, received the silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens after a tie-breaking throw placed Ukrainian Yuriy Bilonog at the top of the podium.
But late last year, retroactive drug tests conducted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) revealed the presence of a performance-enhancing drug in Bilonog’s sample. Bilonog was stripped of his gold medal in December, officially moving Nelson into the top spot.
Adam Nelson “Getting the gold medal [at the Games] is a memory I don’t have,” he says. “But the history books will record me as the gold medalist. I’ve got the rest of my life to be the gold medalist, and that’s worth a lot more than wearing something around my neck.”
Nelson will receive his gold medal from the U.S. Olympic Committee this summer, although it is still working out how best to present it to him.
The Athens, Ga., resident says he is still getting used to the idea of being an Olympic gold medalist, in part because his near victory in Greece was a great source of motivation for later competitions, including the 2005 World Athletics Championships, where he won his first major title.
But as an athlete long known to have been against drug use in sports—he ran a website early in his career promoting drug-free training methods—Nelson said he believes that the IOC’s policy to rerun drug tests, even years later, is helping to promote athletic fairness around the globe.
“They’ve given themselves an eight-year window to make up for anything they’ve missed,” he says. “They’re effectively eliminating a whole category of drugs that people in my sport used to take. There is poetic justice that I made a strong stance on anti-doping early in my career and maintained it. [The gold] is a great way to cap a career that was built on fair competition.”