Olympian Bestowed 9-Year-Old Gold Medal

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NPR's Tom Goldman reports on an elusive award for Olympian Adam Nelson. Thursday, he officially became the gold-medal winner for shot put in the 2004 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee stripped the medal from the original winner for doping violations.


Nearly nine years after the Athens Summer Olympic Games, American shot putter Adam Nelson has been declared a winner at those games. NPR's Tom Goldman has the story of an Olympic dream come true at last.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It was always a realistic dream. Adam Nelson won oodles of medals in his stellar career, including Olympic silver in 2000 and 2004. It wasn't a stretch to think gold was possible. But the dream seemed to end on an August night in 2008 in Beijing, when Nelson crashed out in the first round of what would be his final Olympic shot put competition.

ADAM NELSON: I kind of said to myself, well, I came out here, and I really did the best that I could and I'm not going to let myself walk out of here with my head held low. I want to hold it high.

GOLDMAN: Yesterday, fate flip-flopped on Adam Nelson, who is still getting used to his new handle.

NELSON: Adam Nelson, 2004 Olympic gold medallist.

GOLDMAN: This had been in the works since last December, when 2004 champion Yury Bilonog of Ukraine was disqualified for doping. After Bilonog narrowly beat Nelson for the gold at the 2004 games, his doping sample was stored, then re-tested last year with new technology. It came back positive. Yesterday's official announcement by the International Olympic Committee was bittersweet as Nelson imagined what it would have been like to go through the victory ceremony in Greece.

NELSON: We were at the ancient stadium in Olympia, and to be robbed of that situation in that setting is a little bit cruel.

GOLDMAN: Nelson also lost a chance to make a lot more money. He calls shot put a feast or famine sport, and he wasn't able to feast on lucrative endorsements and payments here and overseas. It's one of the reasons Nelson was not in a let bygones be bygones mood yesterday when talking about Bilonog and doping.

NELSON: The decision to cheat, it's extraordinarily selfish, and a lot of people think that it's their decision and it doesn't impact anyone else, but it does.

GOLDMAN: One of his last goals in the sport now realized, 37-year-old Adam Nelson retired from competition three weeks ago. The U.S. Olympic Committee says it'll work with Nelson to figure out an appropriate way to present him with his gold medal, meaning it won't be mailed in a box. But if it is, Nelson jokes...

NELSON: Hopefully it'll be a nice box.

GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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