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Nine from UVa Set to Compete in Olympics

Adam Nelson, Virginia’s volunteer track and field assistant coach, is currently the world’s most decorated shot putter. A two-time Olympic Games silver medalist, Nelson earned another opportunity to win Olympic gold with his third-place finish at the this year’s Olympic Trials. The only American track and field athlete to win a medal at every major outdoor championship since 2000, Nelson will team with Reese Hoffa and Christian Cantwell to form what is considered the “Shot Put Dream Team” in Team USA’s quest to sweep the podium in Beijing on Fri., Aug. 15 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit the Official Olympics website.

Question: How does it feel to be going back to the Olympics for the third time? Is this year and different than the rest, and do you think you hold an advantage since you’ve participated in the Games before?
Nelson: This is my third Olympic Games and the teams don’t get any easier to make. I’m pretty fired up to be on my third Olympic team. I realize these opportunities only come around every four years and when they do come around you have to take full advantage of them.

The biggest advantage that I have is that I have been there before. I’m the only shot putter on this team that has actually qualified for an Olympic final. I know what that experience is like and I know what that pressure is like. In 2000, I was really happy to be there and in 2004, although I was happy to be there, I felt like I could have done better, but I really hadn’t prepared like I should have for that competition. I’ve won silver by a difference of less than three inches total between the two games. In 2000, it was about three inches and in 2004, I lost in a tiebreaker. We both threw the same distance, but his second best throw was better than my second best throw. This year, everything has been perfect; my training is great, I’m healthy, I have a great balance between school and training and life. These moments don’t come around very often, so I know how valuable they are and you have to take full advantage of them when they do come.

If anything, my past experiences coming into the Olympic Games have taught me that I have to take full advantage and I have to execute at the level I’m supposed to execute at. This year, that’s what most of my training has been geared at; maintaining that consistency of execution on a daily basis over a large period of time. This year is the year that I feel like it’s my turn to take the top spot on the podium and I feel like my experiences in the past will help me once I get into Beijing to take that top podium position.

Question: You were struggling to hold a top spot at the Olympic Trials and you were not guaranteed a spot on this Olympic team, but qualified by edging Dan Taylor by less than four inches. How nervous was it for you to compete in an environment like that and what was it like to know you had to have a big final throw to go back to the Games?
Nelson: I can’t lie, it was pretty nerve-wracking, even for me. We train four years for those kinds of moments. Ultimately, it was a kind of day where I wasn’t executing very well and I didn’t have a lot of confidence going into the finals. But, on my fourth throw, I said “lets get after one and put one together”, and I was able to put one together that ended up putting me into third place. I am very fortunate that things didn’t turn out differently. There are a number of very talented shot putters in this country and I was very lucky to finish the way I did.

Question: Before every throw, you have a very animated and intense entrance. What is that and how does it get you fired up?
Nelson: At some point along my career, someone gave me the nickname Mr. Intensity. I’m a very intense and very vocal and visibly intense guy when I compete. I do a pre-throw routine that is probably reminiscent of Hulk Hogan and old school WWF, but it helps me really channel my energy and build up to the right intensity levels I need to get to in order to throw the shot put as far away from me as possible. So when I get out there in the sector, I get the crowd going with a little clap and then something clicks inside me and the second I pull my shirt off I become a whole other person. When I get into the circle, that’s when I can regroup a little. It really helps me in two ways; one, it helps me bring up the energy levels a little bit and two, it helps me burn off a little extra energy if I have a little too much going into the circle, so I can dial into that perfect intensity for a great throw.

Question: What is it like to represent the USA, UVa and the Commonwealth of Virginia at the Olympics?
Nelson: Part of making the Olympic team is representing the United States. To step out into a competitive arena and represent the USA, is one of the most amazing experiences and feelings you can have as an athlete. The next level of that is to represent your school and region. This is the first time I’ve gone to an Olympic Games while still enrolled in a school. I currently attend UVa’s Darden School of Business, and I feel like I’m part of a greater Virginia community. The Charlottesville community has really supported me over the past two years, so I do feel like I’m representing the area, and it’s a great honor to have going into Beijing.

Question: What is it like to be an Olympian? To wear your colors and drape yourself in your country’s flag in front of the worlds best athletes?
Nelson: The feelings that go along with being an Olympian are patriotism, pride and an overwhelming desire to perform at the highest level possible, because you know you’re representing more than yourself. When you’re a part of the Olympic team, you realize that you not only made one of the most difficult teams in the world, but it makes all of the work that we put in on a daily basis over four years worth it.

We don’t get a lot of recognition in this country, except in every fourth year, and when you do have that opportunity to make that Olympic team and represent the USA on the largest athletic stage in the world, it’s a tremendous feeling. I’m not in the armed forces, never have been and probably never will be. But it’s as close as I can get to serving my country and doing it on a major stage, and I think that’s a pretty amazing feeling to be apart of.

Question: You said you have a balanced mix between a personal life, throwing and school this year. Outside of throwing, what is your life like? Are you going to continue to prepare for future Games?

Nelson: Well, my wife and I are expecting our first baby in September and we’re very excited about the idea of that. We don’t know if it’s a boy or girl yet, we’re going to wait and find out on the day. So, as for whether I’ll continue on for four more years, a lot of it depends on where we see ourselves over the next couple of years and what I feel I have left to do in the sport. Or if I even feel like I have anything left to do in the sport.

I won’t say winning a gold medal is the end all, be all in this sport, I don’t think winning medals is the end all, be all in any sport. It is certainly not the defining moment in my life or career, but it’d be a heck of a note to go out on if it does happen that way.

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