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Big Shot

Darden student sets sights on Olympic medal, world record

Adam Nelson Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Adam Nelson has stood on the pinnacle of his profession and claimed the ultimate title: world champion.

Yet there are two peaks left to scale, two goals he has set to crown an illustrious career throwing the shot put: winning an Olympic gold medal and setting a world record.

Part of his motivation comes from going on the record with those goals.

“I’ve always had them as goals but never really stated them,” says Nelson, a second-year student in the Darden School of Business.

In two previous Olympics, Nelson, 32, brought home silver, and in 2004 he thought he’d won the gold. He held the lead until the final round, when Yuriy Bilonog of the Ukraine gained an edge. Everything depended on Nelson’s final throw.

“I remember stepping into the ring and having this surge of confidence and energy, saying it’s all going to come together,” Nelson says. His throw easily beat the previous best of 69 feet 5¼ inches.

“I was immediately elated. Then I turned around and saw this red flag,” he says. He had foot-faulted. Gold turned to silver, and elation to despair. “It was crushing. To me, it was a defining moment in my life.”

After nearly quitting, he’s back on track for another shot at Olympic gold this summer. Winning the world championship in 2005 and the silver last summer have given him a big boost.

His professors at Darden also have afforded him the flexibility to compete and extend his studies. He expects to earn his degree in December, a semester before his wife, Laci Ann, is scheduled to finish her studies at the UVA Law School.

Darden also has given him insight into building a sports nutrition business that emphasizes optimizing performance without doping.

Nelson relies instead on a gift developed in high school and nurtured under coach Carl Wallin at Dartmouth. He persuaded Nelson to follow that gift to its limits, and now Nelson hopes it will carry him into the world record books. He’ll have to add two feet to his best throw to beat the mark of 75 feet 10¼ inches set in 1990.

But he’s already visualizing it.

“I don’t know how many people on this planet are capable of throwing something that far,” Nelson says, “but I feel like I’m one of them.”