U.S. Shot-Putter Undeterred By Last-Minute Injury

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Editor's Note: In Friday evening's competition in Beijing, Nelson fouled on all three throws and failed to advance to the final round of eight.

Shot-putter Adam Nelson competes during the Olympic trials in June i

Adam Nelson competes in the men's shot put during the second day of the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., in June. Andy Lyons/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Shot-putter Adam Nelson competes during the Olympic trials in June

Adam Nelson competes in the men's shot put during the second day of the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., in June.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

At the Beijing Olympics on Friday, Adam Nelson and his fellow shot-putters are up first. The men's shot-put final kicks off the track-and-field competition.

NPR has been following Nelson for several months as he prepares for the games. He has already won a couple of Olympic silver medals and would love nothing more than to finally win gold.

Every Olympic athlete has traveled his or her own personal "road to Beijing," and Nelson certainly has had his share of twists and turns this year.

Changing Technique

In February, he uncorked the third farthest throw in history. The next month, he changed his throwing technique.

"This is probably not the best time to do this," Nelson says, "but, you know, it makes it fun."

But in July, fun was the farthest thing from his mind. At the Olympic trials, Nelson barely made the U.S. team, with a performance he called "ugly."

"I haven't had too many of those days in the last few months, but unfortunately this was one of those days," Nelson said.

After a week in China, Nelson feels good — his practices are going well. On Monday, he throws the shot at Beijing Normal University, where the U.S. Olympic Committee has set up a training facility.

He throws for about half an hour, then bends over, obviously in pain; he gathers his equipment and ends practice early.

'Not A Comfortable Feeling'

"I need to go see the chiropractor if he's open right now," Nelson says. "I've got a rib that's been bothering me for the last couple of weeks, and it kinda slipped out on that last throw. So it's not a comfortable feeling."

Nelson finds Glenn Lowenberg, the team chiropractor for U.S. Track And Field. Lowenberg is working outside, where a couple of massage tables are set up next to the track. He has Nelson take off his shirt and lie down so he can feel the problem.

As Lowenberg massages Nelson's huge back, Nelson's coach, Carrie Lane, watches. She's not worried, even though the Olympic shot-put competition is only four days away.

"He's very strong mentally," Lane says. "Something like this isn't gonna hurt him. And he'll get it fixed and popped out and all that.

Lowenberg is now up on the table with one knee on Nelson as he tries to realign the shot-putter's rib.

Nelson gets up and says he feels better, but he seems either worried, or in pain, or both. He needs more treatment.

Working Through The Pain

Two days before his Olympic competition, Nelson says he's fine. Intensive therapy, including radio waves beamed into his back to help with recovery, has worked well — or at least well enough.

"You know, part of what we do is working through pain. And this is just unfortunate timing that I've been healthy all year until now, so there's not a chance you won't see me out on the field on Friday."

So now he prepares by busying himself with seemingly mundane, yet important tasks, like getting his equipment bag ready a day before the competition.

"If you wait until the last minute to prepare everything, you will forget something that's pretty critical — I promise," Nelson says. "Like a shot put. Or you'll pack two left shoes or something like that. You won't realize it until you get there."

The Olympics are a funny beast, he says. They create stress even if you think you don't feel it. And that includes an Olympic veteran like Nelson.

How, one wonders, can a guy who's won silver medals in the last two Olympics be stressed?

Well, in a gold-obsessed world, Nelson hasn't reached his full potential. But, he insists, the color of the medal, or even a medal itself, won't define success in Beijing.

"Really, my ultimate goal is not to win a medal — it's to perform at my highest level possible."

A level, he says, he hasn't achieved at an Olympics. Try as he might to de-stress Friday night, when he walks onto the field at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing, Nelson knows it will be significant.



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