Congratulations turned to condolences for Adam Nelson on Wednesday as his foul-filled finish handed the shot put gold medal to Ukraine's Yuriy Bilonog, capping an underachieving day for the American favorites at the site that birthed the Olympics 28 centuries ago.
Nelson led the entire competition, but Bilonog's final throw tied Nelson for the best of the day at 69 feet 51/4 inches. Nelson had one last chance to win and unleashed a golden toss -- but was called for his fifth consecutive foul and had to settle for silver.
Bilonog was declared the champion because his next-best throw was better. Denmark's Joachim Olsen took the bronze with a throw of 69-11/2.
After the foul was called, Nelson remained helplessly in the shot put ring for three minutes, pointing and pleading with officials, even as Bilonog took the flag-draped victory lap that the former Dartmouth defensive tackle thought was his.
Nelson later sobbed on his wife's shoulder and covered his face with an American flag, his shirt caked with dust from the ancient grounds.
"When you compete at the level that I aspire to compete at, there's nothing but the best you shoot for. The silver medal is a great piece of hardware, but it keeps me around for another four years," said Nelson, 29, a laurel wreath resting uncomfortably on his head.
Replays showed Nelson's foot clearly out of the ring, and he apologized to officials after being told of the obvious foul.
Nelson's medal saved a wipeout for an American trio that had hoped for a sweep. U.S. men have the top 17 tosses in the world this year -- all of them farther than Wednesday's gold standard.
But two-time Olympic medalist John Godina fouled twice and failed to reach the final rounds. Reese Hoffa couldn't advance past the morning qualifying session. And Chris Cantwell, who has the longest throw in the world this year, didn't make it past the U.S. Olympic trials.
Earlier Wednesday, Russia's Irina Korzhanenko became the first woman to win a gold medal at the ancient venue. The original Olympics were for men only.
Korzhanenko, who slapped her face with both hands before throws, recorded the three longest heaves of the day -- including the winning toss of 69-11/4, the best in the world this year. Yumileidi Cumba of Cuba won the silver with a throw of 64-31/4 on her last attempt, and Nadine Kleinert of Germany took the bronze.
Americans Kristin Heaston, the first woman to compete at the site when she opened the historic qualifying round, and Laura Gerraughty failed to advance to the final. So did Astrid Kumbernuss of Germany, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist.