Confessions of an Olympic and World Champion Shot Putter: Part 1

Adam Nelson

This is not an article.  This is series of observations and anecdotes about sports, money, and drugs that I’ve collected over the past 20 years.  I hope the collective works when they’re  published on this site will facilitate a discussion on some of the challenges we face as a profession and as an amateur sport. 

It doesn’t matter what my test results say.  It doesn’t matter that I was that kid that started lifting two hours a day starting at age 12.  It doesn’t matter that my high school coaches had to kick me out of the weight room.  It doesn’t matter that my parents stressed the importance of hard work and sportsmanship.  It doesn’t matter that I made a promise to my dad when I was 15 years old that I’d never do steroids.   None of that matters, because I’m a shot putter.  Shot putters as one potential sponsor said when they passed on signing me “are not worth the investment.  They are all dirty.”  The assumption of guilt has followed me for my entire career and quite frankly I’m tired of it.

The Danger of Assumptions

It used to irritate me when someone asked me if I took steroids.  Over time the irritation shifted to pleasure as I considered it a back handed compliment from ignorant or insecure people.

One particular incident will always stick out.  I was training at Asphalt Greens in New York City.  It was a heavy squat day and I settled under the 615lb bar for the first of five sets of five reps. I wore no belt and dropped below parallel with each effort.  Upon exiting the bottom of the lift a guttural scream would emerge from within – one of those Neanderthal-esque, get the hell out of my way from the bottom of your gut man screams.  It’s about the most satisfying moment in the world when you rack the bar after a really heavy set of squats that would crush most mortals.  One of the guys in the gym, Joe, who was also an amateur power lifter, laughed when a trainer came to ask if I could keep it down as I was disturbing his clients.  Admittedly, it’s never good to poke the lion after he’s just made a kill.  Better to let him bask in the moment for a bit. I probably said something that was a little less than appropriate.

A few minutes later another patron injected himself into the conversation Joe and I were having about the gym getting a monolift rack – if you has to ask, don’t worry about it.  The man said the weights I lifted were impossible for a drug free athlete.  Casually I asked if he was doctor.  He nodded.  I asked him if he thought I could diagnose a sprain ankle.  He assumed that because I’d been an athlete for over 20 years that I could probably diagnose an ankle sprain.  I asked him if I could operate on an ankle to fix the sprain.  He laughed and said no.  I said why not.  I can diagnose an ankle sprain, why can’t I operate on it?  Because you haven’t gone to med school nor received the proper training.  I said EXACTLY.  The things I can do in the weight room are the cumulative effect of years of training.  YOU are not the standard that applies to me in the weight room.

We all have genetic advantages and disadvantages.  For some reason my swirls of double helixes formed in a way that allow me to generate a lot of power from a relatively small frame.  I can’t explain it.  It’s just the way I’m wired.  Seriously, ask anyone who has ever trained with me.  That said a 300lb, 8 year old can probably outrun me in a mile.  I can’t explain that either.  It’s terribly embarrassing.

“…doth protest too much, methinks.”  Hamlet, Act III, Scene II

I started a website in 2003 called “ThrowClean.com.”  It started as a blog site to openly discuss training habits of elite and professional athletes.  My friend, Rob, and I spent hours answering questions about training, personal nutrition and recovery techniques.  It was real labor of love, but it was also a real interesting experiment.

From the site we learned that most athletes want to know what supplements to take.  We learned that they aren’t afraid of the gray area, rather they want to charge in head first.  Again, the assumption is that as a shot putter I know all about the gray areas.  And for the record I have pushed the envelope on some nutritional supplementation, but I always researched everything I put in my body.  (For those that are curious I did IV supplementation of vitamin C and glutathione.  It seemed to help reduce inflammation and recovery times from hard workouts, but the process of IV supplementation was banned in 2004.  Plus the logistics made it difficult.)  That’s the difference between a lot of athletes and me.  I don’t place blind faith in any one person.  I research it.  I also know my limitations.  If I don’t understand a supplement, then I won’t take it.

Shortly after starting the website I had the opportunity to train with one of the best strength coaches in the world, Charles Poliquin.  Charles has been involved in the strength game for a LONG time.  He was one of the first strength coaches to translate and implement German Volume Training in North America.  He’s had a major influence on my training over the years and I credit him with teaching me proper periodization that allowed me to throw better later in the season.   Charles treated me differently than many of his professional athletes.  He mentored me and warned me of the mistakes that he and many of his peers made in the past.  Charles had been involved with the strength game since the early 1980s.  Personal events and cultural changes forced him to evolve and he embraced it.  Side note:  if you ever have the chance to train with one of the greats in the strength game, do it.

I thought I was doing everything right.  Disseminating knowledge, seeking professional advice and openly supporting drug free training until a Finnish strongman confronted me in a bar after a competition in Helsinki.  We were several drinks into the night when he began asking me about my training.  It was a good conversation then he asked me point blank, ”What you eat?”  I talked to him about my diet.  He said “No, what you eat?!”  I knew what he was referencing, so I said I don’t do any drugs.  He cursed at me. Said it was impossible.

A friend of mine interrupted at just the right time.  He sent the local strongman to the other side of the bar and sat me down for a discussion.  He said that many Europeans don’t believe me because I speak about it too much.  It’s almost as if I’m trying to hide something by constantly talking about it.  That was certainly not my intent.

What I am supposed to do?  How can I prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ve never done PEDs in my life?  I can’t.  Nobody believes in the drug tests anymore.  The words of the lost sponsor rang through my head, “shot putters are all dirty.”  Damn!

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