The unfortunate truth about sports is that the runners-up are usually forgotten. Roger Bannister was the first to run a mile in under four minutes, but do you remember the name of the next person to accomplish this milestone? Vasily Alexeev was the first man to clean and jerk 500 pounds – who did it next? And in all Usain Bolt’s world-record races in the last two Olympic Games, can you name anyone who earned the silver behind Bolt? Probably not – runners-up tend to fade into obscurity. Such was the case with US shot-putter Adam Nelson, until now.
Nelson is known as one of the premiere shot-putters in the country. His best distances are 22.51 meters outdoor in 2002, and 22.40 indoor in 2008. In the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney he was awarded a silver medal. In 2004 in Athens, Nelson tied for the gold with Yuriy Bilonog of the Ukraine with 21.16 meters. In the case of a tie, placing is determined by the competitors’ second-best throw. Because Nelson had fouled all his throws after hitting 21.16 in the opening round, Bilonog was awarded the gold. Four years later Nelson competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing but did not medal, and he didn’t qualify for the 2012 team, having placed fourth in the Trials. But Nelson’s Olympic story does not end there.
Everyone believed Nelson’s quest for a gold medal was over – until December 5, 2012. On that date the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that 2004 gold medalist Bilonog had failed doping control. With improved doping control technology, it was possible to retroactively test Bilonog’s urine, and it was found to contain the banned synthetic steroid oxandrolone, first produced in 1964 and distributed under the brand name Anavar.
“It’s not just a victory for me, but a victory for the system,” Nelson said in interview for Associated Press. “I can’t dwell on what happened or didn’t happen eight years ago. I can only look forward to what the next phase in life brings.”
The Poliquin Connection
In 2003 Nelson sought out the help of Coach Charles Poliquin, who at the time was working out of his performance center in Tempe, Arizona. Nelson was hoping Poliquin could take him to an even higher level.
Because Nelson is relatively light for a shot-putter, about 114 kilos, Poliquin’s early preparation was designed to increase Nelson’s muscle mass. Gaining weight was always a problem for Nelson, so Poliquin had Nelson undergo lab testing to see if there was an underlying problem. There was, in the form of a specific bacterium called proteus mirabilis that was affecting Nelson’s ability to assimilate protein.
Within just three months Nelson gained 25 pounds of solid muscle and decreased his body fat by five percent! “I thought I was overtraining or just stressed out,” says Nelson. “Once we corrected that problem, everything went back into place again.” He added that he also found that he had more energy for training.
Another priority for Poliquin in Nelson’s training was developing structural balance. Nelson was especially weak in the muscles that externally rotate the shoulders, such as the teres minor and the infraspinatus. These muscles, which originate on the scapula and insert on the humerus, are two of the four muscles collectively known as the rotator cuff. Although these muscles are relatively small, they are important for stabilizing the shoulder and therefore keeping the athlete healthy. In fact, Nelson could not perform power snatches prior to working with Poliquin because the imbalance in his external rotators caused too much pain in his shoulders.
After just a few weeks of performing the external rotator cuff work that Poliquin prescribed, Nelson power snatched 286 pounds for 3 reps! In fact, after developing his external rotator cuff muscles and correcting his digestive disorder, Nelson increased his incline bench press, using a 3-inch-thick bar, from 385 pounds to 525!
In addition to concentrating on these exercises, Poliquin had Nelson perform a lot of chin-ups, thick-implement work, and exercises with bands and chains. Poliquin says that working with chains not only helps throwers increase their strength but also develops the power needed to put the shot explosively. “Chains force you to continually push yourself to accelerate though the lift, rather than keeping a steady pressure,” adds Nelson.
As for his Olympic performance, Adam Nelson is now acknowledged as the winner, and the IOC has asked Bilonog to return the gold medal he didn’t earn. The world is watching to see what happens next.