It all comes back to me now – the heat, the dust, the antiquity, the frustration when Adam Nelson could not prevent his foot from squiggling over the foul line.
By the slimmest of margins, Nelson fouled on his final shot in the 2004 Summer Games, which meant somebody else won the gold medal by virtue of a tiebreaker.
Nelson had two millenniums of history all around him on the most memorable day of the entire Olympics. The hosts had placed a medal event at the site of the ancient Games – the shot-put for men and women, fairly contained in one small corner of the old field.
I remember arriving the night before, walking the grounds in the dark with a few friends, sensing the old Olympians in the cosmic dust. Every step, every breath, was a privilege. Competitors and their followers had walked these hills and paths long ago.
Everybody got it, from the spectators to the athletes to the reporters. My daughter Laura Vecsey, then with the Baltimore Sun, made the trip out from Athens. This was the best day.
"It was surreal," said Cleopatra Borel, a shot-putter from Trinidad, who did not win a medal, but was exhilarated all the same.
"You can't believe that athletes just like myself competed here. I know it was an all-male environment back then. This can never, ever happen again like this. Even if they ever have something back here, it can never be like this again."
Borel was right. Now, eight years later, that day in ancient Olympia is being re-arranged. The sample from Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine has been judged to contain an illegal substance, untraceable by methods available in 2004.
It looks like Adam Nelson is going to get his gold medal. There is a warning out to all the cheaters, in all the sports. Be careful, pal; time and pharmacology may judge you yet.
The news about Nelson’s gold medal:
The column I wrote from Olympic in 2004:
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.