Joe Kovacs remembers vividly where he was the last time a global athletics event was held in the Bird’s Nest stadium.
“In Fiji, on a mission there. I was chopping down trees and building houses for the local people there and in the evening we would watch the Olympics on TV. In those days, I was more into football (the American variety) although I loved track as well.
“I remember watching Christian Cantwell and Reese Hoffa at those Olympics and, I can tell you, I would never have imagined that one day I would be competing on the same team as them and in the same stadium as those Olympics,” said Kovacs recently, with an air of wonder.
However, it was the rest of the shot putters who contested the final on Sunday who were left wondering what they would have had to have done to beat the strong man from Pennsylvania who showed fantastic composure and competitiveness to win the gold medal at his first major glocal championship.
As expected, the final results showed Kovacs and Germany's two-time defending champion David Storl in the final two places, and most pundits had predicted that they would be the top two in Beijing, but that doesn’t do justice to an enthralling and entertaining contest with several other protagonists.
Kovacs, throwing second in the opening rotation, quickly imposed his authority on the competition with an effort of 21.23m while Storl was next in the ring and, as he has done so often on the big occasion, fouled his first attempt.
However, in the next round, after Kovacs had put a more modest 20.48m, the German took the lead with 21.46m.
In the third round, both the favourites fouled their attempts but one can only wonder what was going through their minds when they saw the Jamaican O’Dayne Richards unleash a huge throw, accompanied with a mighty yell, which was measured at 21.69m to equal his national record set when winning at the Pan American Games almost exactly a month ago.
With the order revised, more surprises happened in the fourth round as Tom Walsh, lying in sixth place, unleashed an Oceanian record of 21.58m to move up into second place.
However, Kovacs responded with 21.67m later in the round to move back into second place, just two centimetres away from the lead as Richards fouled his fourth effort.
The fifth round was crucial in determining who got the medals and what colour they would be.
With both Storl and Richards throwing after him, Kovacs heaved the shot out to 21.93m, punching the air and delighted to take the lead, but by no means sure that it was enough to win.
Storl went straight into the circle and reached 21.74m to go back into second while Richards, perhaps a little emotionally and physically drained, could only reach 20.54m.
Kovacs’ final effort reached 21.66m and he then had a nail-biting few minutes to see whether either Storl or Richards could surpass him but neither could. In his first global championship, Kovacs returned the title to the USA after a four-year hiatus when it had been in the hands of his German rival.
For the record, Kovacs’ inspirations Hoffa and Cantwell both made the final. Hoffa, the 2007 world champion, finished fifth with 21.00m while the latter, the 2009 world champion, didn’t start the final having picked up a slight injury during qualifying.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF