Adam Nelson celebrates a new season's best 21.73m in Helsinki's Shot Put final (© Getty Images)
USA's Adam Nelson reached into his repertoire bag and again came out with the same strategy he used in Olympia last summer: Get a big one early and make the rest of the field chase you all the way.
After the Netherlands' Rutger Smith opened with a 21.29m, Nelson went to the ring four throws later and produced a season's best of 21.73m to grab a first-round lead, just as he did last August.
But any similarity of last year and this year ended at that point. Instead of the intense summer heat of ancient Greece, Nelson was thrust into a cold evening with intermittent light rain. But more significantly, instead of having to endure the ignominy of a last-round ambush as had been inflicted by eventual Olympic champion Yuriy Belonog, Nelson finally was able to enjoy the euphoria known only to those who win a world title.
It was a long wait for Nelson, who until now seemed to be destined to live out his competitive life clad in silver. Twice an Olympic silver medallist, and two times on the second step at the World Championships, he even finished second this year in his own national championships. But tonight, Nelson made the long-awaited leap to the centre circle.
“This has been in the making for five years,” said the relieved winner later. “After Rutger’s last throw, it just all came together in me, and I had to fight hard to control my emotions.”
It was certainly not a win that could have been predicted for most of the summer, as Nelson’s roller-coaster season contrasted greatly with the late spring fortunes of John Godina and the midsummer performances of Christian Cantwell. The only thing that could be said with relative certainty was that the principal challenge for Nelson lay in finding a way to defeat his own countrymen.
It seems to be virtually axiomatic that a shot putter never peaks in a major championship. Nelson found a way to violate that rule with his best throw of the year, and it was truly golden.
Tonight’s competition also stood as a big step in Smith’s career, as the Dutch thrower put together a marvelous series of three throws farther than 21 metres in gaining the silver medal. The 24-year-old had previously produced only two career throws over that benchmark. As in the case of Nelson, the reigning European indoor champion’s big effort came at the start of the evening.
“I saw it was going to rain,” said instant meteorologist Smith, “so I told myself to get a big one in the first round. And I did it!”
Athens eighth-place finisher Ralf Bartels of Germany started slowly with 20.30m, but he ended the evening with a 20.99m for the bronze, shocking erstwhile third-place finisher Belonog, who slid to a medal-less fourth at 20.89m.
The Olympic experience was Bartels’ main inspiration in his success tonight. “When you know that you are only a little bit away from the medals and the podium, you try to concentrate on the task and reallocate your energy to find those few missing centimetres. That was what I did,” said the winner of Germany’s first shot put medal since Sven Buder’s silvers in 1997 and 1999.
Cantwell, who had the top throw in the qualifying earlier in the day, was off his usual form all evening. With only two fair throws – usually a sign of distress – the current world indoor champion never improved after his opening 20.87m and finished fifth.
Defending champion Andrei Mikhnevich of Belarus took sixth with a final-round 20.74m, barely pipping Denmark's Joachim Olsen at 20.73m.