BRADENTON -- "I feel I am back on the podium again."
Those were the exact words spoken by Bahamian track sprinter Demetrius Pinder at the Bradenton Police Department Friday when Bradenton Police Detective K.B. Magown placed Pinder's recovered 2012 London Olympics gold medal around his neck.
"Happy, ecstatic, grateful, this is what I am feeling," Pinder said.
The surprisingly large and heavy medal, which had been stolen inside its black felt case from the deep console of Pinder's Dodge Ram truck on Sept. 11, was found Thursday after an exhaustive effort by six Bradenton Police detectives, said Lt. John Affolter of the Bradenton Police Department.
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"The case was difficult because the group of people who had it are transient," Affolter said during a news conference at which Pinder was reunited with his medal. "They aren't homeless, but they lay their heads down somewhere different every night. We had to do constant surveillance to track it down."
Police won't yet say who had the medal or where it was recovered. But they do say that Allen Nichols, 22, who has a lengthy police record, passed the medal to a group of about six people, most of whom had it in their possession for a short time while they were trying to decide what to do with it.
Nichols is the only suspect in custody right now, Affolter said. He is charged with theft from a vehicle, and was being held on a $1,500 bond.
The person who had the medal was not arrested Thursday, Affolter added.
Given the media attention on the medal, the suspects probably intended to melt it, Affolter said.
A tiny scratch on the medal tells Pinder they weren't sure it was real.
"You can see they wanted to see if it was really gold underneath," Pinder said, noticing the scratch immediately when he got his medal back. "They found out it was yellow through and through."
"We think Mr. Nichols was the one who took the medal from the truck, but we also think he didn't know what it was he had taken," Affolter said.
Pinder and police worried that the medal could have disappeared into the hands of a sports artifacts collector or been unrecoverable countless other ways. Police didn't think it could be pawned, given its "hot" status.
Even though Pinder lives in a gated community, Springs of Palma Sola in the 4600 block of 66th Street West, there are paths that suspects could have used to get in the community, Affolter said.
There may be more arrests, said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski.
Pinder, his voice cracking numerous times, said that he is a long way from his home, in a new city where he trains at IMG Academy, and he was suddenly faced with a crushing emotional blow, the loss of his medal, which he received as a member of the Bahamas' 4x400 relay team.
It would be clear later that the medal meant more to him than observers could even imagine.
He said later that he sees himself as an ambassador of the Olympic message. He said he used the medal to transform lives.
"I would show it around to make people smile," Pinder said. "I would show kids what could happen if they work hard and get away from smoking and being rude to their parents. This is what I like to do with the medal."
Pinder said he will gladly repay the city of Bradenton for what it has done for him by speaking to Manatee County youngsters about the medal and letting them feel its heft in their own hands and understand what it means.
"We will contact the Boys and Girls Club and try to set something up," Affolter said.
Even at the news conference Friday, he let strangers hold and touch the medal.
"See how it affects people," Pinder said after a stranger put the medal on and said it was a life-changing moment.
To hold the medal in one's hand is a shock.
It weighs about nine ounces it's about a tenth of an inch thick and has a diameter of about 2.6 inches.
"The Bradenton police had my back," said Pinder, whose stolen medal became nationwide news in his home country of the Bahamas and made headlines across the international track and field community.
"I was so scared because this is a relatively small medal in a large country," said Pinder. "But the Bradenton police kept me informed and comforted me and made me believe there was hope of finding it."
After receiving his medal and signing some papers, Pinder raced back to IMG Academy where he is training for the international racing season.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072.