There are two surefire ways to get Olympic shot-putter Adam Nelson riled up: put him in a competition, where his theatrics are well-known; or ask him about doping in his sport.
Nelson, a two-time Olympic silver medalist who is aiming for gold in Beijing this summer, says the temptation for athletes to dope is strong.
But, he says, he has avoided performance-enhancing drugs and finds audiences' suspicions frustrating.
Success Tempered with Skepticism
At the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., things were not looking good for Adam Nelson. It was his last meet before the Olympic trials, and he wanted a good showing. But his first three out of six throws were fouls.
Before his fourth throw, Nelson went through his usual routine — an "incredible hulk" transformation, without the green skin. He screamed, ripped off his top shirt and flung it to the side. He stormed into the throwing circle, where he let loose a doozy: Nelson flung the shot put 72 feet and 7 inches. A throw, he says, that is probably the tenth farthest of his career.
The crowd at Hayward Field celebrated, but moments like these in track and field today can be complicated. The thrills are mixed with skepticism.
Former Olympic star Marion Jones is in jail, and the BALCO doping scandal is still taking a toll on the sport. Nelson knows what he is up against, especially after a monster throw.
A Message to Fans
"Probably the most frustrating part about what I do is there's nothing I can do, nothing that I can tell you, no test that I can take that can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm 100 percent clean," he says.
He has taken about 120 drug tests, all negative, in the past 15 years. But he knows people are still suspicious.
It is a helpless feeling, trying to prove a negative. But Nelson, a 6-foot, 265-pound spark plug of a man, has been proactive on the subject. He tries to create an environment in which an athlete's integrity is not automatically suspect. He is on USA Track & Field's Zero Tolerance Committee, he named his official Web site "throwclean.com," and he is always willing to speak out.
"My personal belief about drugs in sport is that it's no different than fraud in the business world," Nelson says. "They are committing fraud and should serve jail time."
Keeping a Promise
But Nelson says it is not only the athletes who are to blame for the current situation. Some guilt, he says, lies with a society that demands superhuman results on the playing field.
He also admits that there are gray areas, like his use of the controversial supplement creatine. Creatine is not banned, but some have said it is a performance-enhancing substance. Nelson, who is smaller than many of his behemoth rivals, admits he has thought about banned drugs as well.
"I think it's natural to have those kinds of questions," he says. "What would give me an edge? Well, probably steroids. Probably growth hormone."
Nelson says the reason he has stayed away from drugs may not appease the doubters, but he is proud of it. Long ago, he promised his dad he would not dope. It is a promise, he says, he has kept for 20 years.