For more than two years no major track meet could unfold without some reference to BALCO and its fallout, and the cloud over the sport's head became darker with each passing month. Fans and media were aggressively suspicious; athletes were uniformly defensive. Along came the 6-foot, 255-pound Nelson, a popular showman who turns every throw into theater. His performance in Helsinki was a shaft of sunlight.
The story does not end neatly. Nelson, 30, is now committed to throwing through the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but he remains sponsorless. "I'm looking outside the shoe companies," Nelson says, "trying to find somebody who wants to have me as a partner, not just for advertising at competitions."
Nelson has applied to several business schools for next autumn. "My brain has atrophied," he says. "I feel like I've gotten dumber." Likewise, Laci has applied to law school. (So far they've both been admitted to Virginia.) Their immediate future will be as chaotic as their recent past.
They can find calm in the memory of one rainy night in Finland, a heavy ball sailing through the air and a husband and wife crying together, thousands of miles apart.