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:
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)