American shotputter Reese Hoffa takes bronze at London Olympics

August 3, 2012

LONDON – The burly American was about to step down from the dais after the medal-winners’ news conference when he was asked a question about his childhood.

Reese Hoffa, who at 34 had just won a bronze medal in shot put for the United States in his third Olympics — edging teammate Christian Cantwell — cordially smiled and began to recount the story, chapter and verse:

“When I was 3 years old, I got put up for adoption, I lived in an orphangage for about a year,” he said. “When I got out, turned 5, I got adopted by the Hoffa family. . . .I have to say thank you very much. Because she was 16 when she had me and that’s her second child. For her to make a decision to give the best life I could possibly have, I’m sure that took incredible courage on her part.

“I’m standing here not only as a three-time Olympian, but a graduate of the University of Georgia and hopefully a good person. I’m a very lucky guy; it could have gone the other way.”

Tomasz Majewski of Poland, who took gold for a second time in the event, and silver medalist David Storl of Germany leaned in along with reporters and listened.

Suddenly, Hoffa nudging Cantwell for third with a distance of 69 feet, 8 inches on his third attempt didn’t matter as much. That Majewski’s 71-10 had edged Storl’s 71-83 / 4 distance wasn’t as important. On the night Hoffa won his first career Olympic medal, he wanted to say how important adoption was in his life, encouraging other parents to consider the same track, depending on their circumstances.

The guy who failed to advance to the finals in Athens in 2004 and finished seventh in Beijing four years ago wasn’t done. This was his moment to talk about being reunited with his birth mother during his junior year of college, when in 2000 he found a woman on the Internet looking for the son she gave up for adoption.

“At the time, she was living in Indiana,” Hoffa said. “She bought me a plane ticket. I flew to Indiana. It was awesome. It’s just one of those great stories — definitely a love story.

“I think that’s very important to me, to show a lot of parents out there looking to give kids homes, that we are great people that we want to do great things but we just need a home to do that in. If you’re a loving, caring mother or father, looking for a child, adoption is an incredible option. I’m definitely testament to that. There’s going to be a few bad adoptions, but I have to believe most of them are great and these kids swill turn out to be phenomenal people and very productive people in society. When she called, I think she was also a little skeptical, too. I had to make sure I could say something that only my birth mother would know. That resonated with her.”

The tipoff they were biologically related: Hoffa accidentally burned down the house as a youth before he was put up for adoption. When asked if he told her sorry when they reconnected, he smiled, adding, “Yeah.”

“It is amazing what’ll happen in a lifetime,” he said. “I started life as this kid from a mom that wanted to give her son a great life, to being a son of two mothers, I guess -- and getting a medal.”

Note: In the women’s 10,000 meters, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia blazed by her Kenyan foes — Sally Jepkosgei Kipyego (silver) and Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot(bronze) — with about 500 meters left and won her third gold medal, her second in the 10,000.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post.
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Medals
Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States 8 19 17 44
China 10 11 7 41
Russia 2 11 3 35
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