For over a decade, American shot putter Adam Nelson had to settle for second best.
A silver medalist in the 2000 Olympic Games, he missed out on first place in the 2004 Athens Olympics by a slim margin. He competed again in the 2008 but received no medal. In 2012, he didn’t make the cut for London trials.
There were suspicions about unfair play in some of the competitions, but Nelson told CNN he put his faith in the anti-doping authorities.
“There’s a little bit of a chosen ignorance that you have to have as an athlete,” he explained.
“Sometimes you look around and you say, wow, there’s something that’s unusual here … but at the end of the day, you choose to be ignorant and you choose to trust the anti-doping association and hope they are doing their job properly.”
A full eight years after he competed in Athens, he was informed by the Olympics committee that he was in fact the real 2004 shot put champion.
Ukrainian winner Yuriy Bilonoh tested positive in 2012 for a banned substance in a retroactive drug test and was stripped of the title.
It took another year after he was notified to final get the gold medal in his hands.
Nelson said that when he first got the news he had an “immediate feeling of loss, immediate feeling of frustration, immediate feeling of anger. At some level there’s some vindication but the actual meaning of the medal takes a long time to develop.”
His missed medal in 2004 completely changed the following eight years of his life.
“I gotta be honest, the silver medal when I received it at the time it changed the course of my life for the next eight years,” he said. “I stayed involved with the sport pursuing that one perfect opportunity to win a gold medal at the moment.”
‘Russia should not be allowed’
With a new doping scandal swirling around the Rio Olympics — Russia has been accused of cheating on an institutional level — Nelson said he feels the entire team should not be allowed at Rio.
“Given the amount of structural cheating that was going on, I find it very hard not to penalize the whole country to force the change,” Nelson said.