Hoffa still awaits return of hard-won medal

WATKINSVILLE – It took Athens-based shot-putter Reese Hoffa three attempts and a dozen years to win his one and only Olympic medal — bringing back a bronze from London in 2012.

And only a single night to have it taken from him.

The medal vanished in 2014, stolen from a truck parked near the Georgia Dome while Hoffa and his manager were watching the Falcons lose a Monday night game to New England.

The laptop that was taken, you just replace. But an Olympic medal? The Franklin Mint isn’t exactly pressing those out for the public.

To the thief, it couldn’t be more than a trinket to be pawned. Or a glorified coaster, meaning nothing. To the owner, though, it was the symbol of a young life’s commitment, the payoff for Hoffa who also made it to the Games in 2004 and ’08 and, as he said, “got my butt kicked.”

Hoffa and his manager had been in Alabama earlier that day at a benefit fund-raiser. At such functions, an Olympic medal is a valuable accessory, a conversation piece. Rather than try to take it with him into the stadium during their stop-over in Atlanta, Hoffa opted to leave the medal in a bag placed out of sight in the truck. That might have worked back home, but not in downtown Atlanta.

That night, Hoffa searched the streets and the garbage bins around the parking deck, hoping the thief had discarded the medal once he had appraised his loot. No such luck.

As the months passed, Hoffa made peace with the loss, choosing to be philosophical rather than angry.

“I’ve come to terms with it. I know I’m the Olympic bronze medalist,” he said.

“There was lot invested in it. I have a lot of good pictures of me with the medal. I know what it felt like to have it, to go up there (on the podium). When you get these medals, it’s about getting on the medal stand, walking up there, representing your country. I felt it was a little bit less about actually putting the medal on me.

“I don’t have to touch to medal to remember it and have those same feelings for what I had to put in to get there. It was more the journey then it was eventually getting the medal.”

It is generally a bad idea to leave your treasures in your car. In 2014, Angelo Taylor had one of his two gold medals from the 2008 Beijing Games (in the 400-meter hurdles and 4X400 relay), his silver from the 2012 Games and a World Championship gold lifted from his car, parked outside his DeKalb County home.

Taylor was extraordinarily fortunate. About a week later a worker at an Atlanta hotel, having seen a television report on the medal heist, found them discarded in a paper bag outside one of the rooms and returned them to Taylor.

“The medal is priceless,” Taylor said. “You put in so much hard work. You only get one shot at it, one chance, and you have to be ready on that day to perform. To have it taken away from you is heartbreaking.”

Getting them back, he said, “was a blessing.”

Even though it has been more than a year since his medal was stolen, Hoffa holds out hope that one day he’ll get a call, too, from someone returning it to its rightful owner.

For, you see, Hoffa said, “There is a lot of magic with that medal.”

“When it’s time to come back to me it will come back to me, that’s the way I look at it. It’s on its way, and it’s going to tell me a story when it comes back to me.”