Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine snatched the closest men’s Shot Put final in the history of the Olympic Games with a 21.16 to 21.16 duel with America’s Adam Nelson, which was only split on countback due to the Ukrainian's better second effort (NB. in reality Nelson didn't have another registered mark). As such, the American's career remained unfortunately stuck in the silver medal groove tonight in the Ancient Stadium of Olympia.
In 1896 at the first modern Olympic Games, America had got the win by virtue of just two centimetres but the closest previous final before this evening had occurred at the 1972 Munich Olympics where the difference between gold and silver was just one centimetre!
The venue called for a Greek drama but the result was more of a tragedy for the 29-year-old Nelson, who has now taken second place in two Olympic Games, two outdoor World Championships and one World Indoors.
The only major global win he has to his credit is the 2002 World Cup, and coming into the Athens Olympics as the second furthest putter on the start-lists this season (21.69) he must have been encouraged to think that this Olympic title was also in his hands, but it was not to be.
When Nelson powered to a 21.16m lead in round one, everyone imagined it would have knocked the stuffing out of the opposition. However, most of the energy seemed rather to have disappeared from Nelson's own game as he did not register another mark in the final, fouling all his remaining efforts, and that was to be his ultimate downfall.
European champion Bilonog, 30, who has also had his fair share of minor global medal positions - two World Indoor bronze and last year’s outdoor World bronze in Paris – could at least claim the 1997 World Indoor crown by comparison to the luckless American.
The Ukrainian also held the edge because of his consistency this evening, his 21.15m first round effort coming just one centimetre short in response to Nelson’s opening heave.
If anyone can been called unlucky it was Bilonog at the early stage of the final, as after his second round release the scoreboard again showed 21.15, as he had matched his first round effort. A 21.07m effort in the third round must have only confirmed his frustration.
In an evening of duplicate throws, Denmark’s Joachim Olsen who had won the European silver behind Bilonog in 2002, also was credited with a 21.07 mark, a result eventually good enough for the bronze medal.
With both Bilonog and Nelson putting fouls like it was going out of style, there was no change in the medal order for the next two rounds, and then bang with his last effort the Ukrainian in the most dramatic fashion drew level with Nelson with his own 21.16 effort. Within a few minutes the gold fell definitively into Bilonog's hands - thanks to his better second best effort (21.15) - after Nelson unleashed a massive 21m plus foul in desperate response, with what was the very last effort of the final.
Back in fourth place was 2003 World Indoor champion Manuel Martinez of Spain (20.84), and reigning World champion Andrey Mikhnevich of Belrus was fifth (20.64), after which the competition results tailed off dramatically in distance.
Former three-time World champion John Godina (USA) who had thrown 21.71 this summer was totally off-form with a 20.19 best, and missed the top-8 cut after the first three throws had been completed.