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Bilonog wins Olympia shot put gold
August 19, 2004 01:57 IST
Yuri Bilonog celebrated the return of the Olympic Games to the idyllic surroundings of Ancient Olympia on Wednesday by winning the men's shot put gold for Ukraine with his sixth and final attempt of the competition,
Competing under a flawless blue sky in the tree-lined grove devoted to Zeus, the European gold medallist equalled American champion Adam Nelson's opening mark of 2.16 to capture his first major title on a countback.
Nelson, who has now been relegated to silver in one Olympic Games and two world championships, must have wondered what he had done to offend the Greek gods. He dropped the shot once and then fell heavily on his back at the start of a sequence of five consecutive fouls.
"I felt it was my day and I felt it was my year," said Nelson. "I lost it and he won it."
Nelson had earlier enthused after the qualifying round about the first competition staged in Olympia since the end of the ancient Games in AD 393 as the morning air was suffused with the scent of pine leaves and cicadas sounded in the background.
"The Greeks have exceeded all my expectations," he said. "This is better than anything I could have dreamed of. This facility is absolutely world class. It has been for 3,500 years, so why would it change now?"
Soon after sunrise around 15,000 spectators streamed into the arena where the first Games were staged in 776 BC, sprawling on the grassy slopes to watch the drama unfolding at their feet.
They were entertained in the evening session by the 12 women's finalists in a competition that ended with victory for Russian Irina Korzhanenko, who won the first athletics gold of the Athens Games.
The European champion, stripped of the 1999 world indoor title for doping, unleashed a massive year's best of 21.06 metres to win the first athletics gold to be decided at the Games.
Korzhanenko took the lead in the first round with 20.41, improved to 20.70 in the second and then launched her winning throw in the third.
Although complaining of the heat, which was at its fiercest in the late morning, Korzhanenko also recognised the legacy of ancient Greece.
"The Olympic gold medal is the highest award for any athlete," she said. "I think the Greek gods helped me win this gold medal today."
Appropriately, fate intervened on behalf of American Kristin Heaston when competition began.
Heaston, drawn in the second qualifying group, was given the honour of becoming the first woman ever to compete in Olympia when Singapore's Zhang Guirong in group one was not ready to start the competition.
"It's an awesome experience," said Heaston, who added she had thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite failing to qualify for the final. "But I needed to think about what I was doing in the ring (rather) than what I was doing in history."
Another non-qualifier, Greek Kalliopi Ouzouni, endorsed Heaston's sentiments.
"I feel so small being in this ancient place where the Olympic Games started," she said. "It was great to compete in a place where women were forbidden."