Doping Scandals Cast Shadow on Athletic Success Two-time Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson, a shot-putter 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.
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Doping Scandals Cast Shadow on Athletic Success

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Doping Scandals Cast Shadow on Athletic Success

Doping Scandals Cast Shadow on Athletic Success

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Here are two surefire ways to get Olympic shot-putter Adam Nelson riled up: One, catch him in a competition, where his theatrics are well-known. And two, ask him about doping. NPR's Tom Goldman did both, and he has the latest in a series of stories about Nelson in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

TOM GOLDMAN: It wasn't looking good for Adam Nelson. His first three out of six throws were fouls at this month's Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. It was his last meet before the Olympic trials, and Nelson wanted a good showing.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ADAM NELSON (Shot-putter): (unintelligible)

GOLDMAN: Before his fourth throw, Nelson went through his usual routine, kind of an Incredible Hulk transformation without the green skin. He screamed, ripped off his top shirt, flung it to the side and stormed into the throwing circle, where he let loose a doozy and knew it immediately.

(Soundbite of screaming)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. NELSON: What's that, baby?

GOLDMAN: That baby was 72 feet, seven inches, a throw Nelson said was probably the tenth farthest of his career.

The crowd at Eugene's Hayward Field celebrated, but moments like these in today's track and field today are complicated. The thrills are mixed with suspicion.

Former Olympic star Marion Jones is in jail. The BALCO doping scandal is still taking a toll on the sport, and Adam Nelson knows what he's up against - especially after a monster throw.

Do you think someone in that crowd of 20,000 sees you throw 72-7 and thinks what's going on?

Mr. NELSON: That's 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 to anybody beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm 100 percent clean.

GOLDMAN: He has taken about 120 tests, all negative, in 15 years of drug testing.

Mr. NELSON: The problem over the last 10 years, eight years, with BALCO, the public realized that just because you don't test positive doesn't mean you're not cheating.

GOLDMAN: It's a helpless feeling, trying to prove a negative. But Nelson, a 6-foot, 265-pound spark plug of a man, doesn't do helpless. He takes action and tries to create an environment where an athlete's integrity isn't automatically suspect.

He's on USA Track & Field's Zero Tolerance Committee. He named his official Web site, and Nelson always is willing to speak out.

Mr. NELSON: My personal belief about drugs in sport is it's no different than fraud in the business world.

GOLDMAN: And athletes should be punished accordingly, he says.

Mr. NELSON: They are committing fraud and should serve jail time.

GOLDMAN: But Nelson's not just law-and-order, hang-them-by-their-thumbs kind of guy. He understands the complexities. Yes, athletes are guilty, but so is a society that demands superhuman results on the playing field.

He admits that there are gray areas, like his use of the controversial supplement creatine. It's not banned, but some have said creatine is a performance-enhancing substance. And Nelson - who's smaller than many of his behemoth rivals - has wondered about banned drugs.

Mr. NELSON: I think it's natural to have those kinds of questions. What gives you the edge? What would give me an edge? Well, probably steroids. Probably growth hormone. Maybe it would be nothing but mental, but even that's a huge help. But it's not...

GOLDMAN: A long pause, as Nelson looks down. His eyes have the same intensity of two hours before, when he was competing at Hayward Field. He knows the next question: If drugs could help, why haven't you taken them? You're a two-time Olympic silver medalist trying to get over the hump and win a gold in Beijing. His answer, he admits, may not appease the doubters, but he's proud of it. Long ago, he promised his dad he wouldn't dope. It's a promise, he says, he's kept for 20 years. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And tomorrow, we'll hear how Adam Nelson is getting ready with a trip to Beijing on the line.

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