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:
"The day after my 80th birthday, which overflowed with good wishes, surprises and Covid-safe celebrations, I awoke feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens going forward, I’m OK with it. My life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.
"Not that I expect to do anything to hasten my demise. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of aging and deciding what I need to reconsider."
--Jane E. Brody, my pal in the NYT newsroom, oh, a few years back, in the Personal Health column, Sept. 13, 2021.
"People have said to me, ‘You’re fully vaccinated. Why are you being so careful?’” said Dr. Robert M. Wachter, professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “I’m still in the camp of I don’t want to get Covid. I don’t want to get a breakthrough infection.”
---Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, Aug. 16, 2021.