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After a year riddled with injuries, reigning double Olympic shot put champion Valerie Adams (NZL) is back on top form and intent on writing her name in the history books as one of the greatest ever field athletes when she competes in Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of your career. You train hard, you go through slumps, you cry, you make yourself sick – your entire focus is on the Games. As an athlete, they mean everything to me. That’s why I do what I do,” said Valerie Adams upon accepting her award for the IAAF female Athlete of the Year in 2014, a year in which she won all seven of the Diamond League meetings she entered.
One of 18 siblings, Adams was born in Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island. In 1994, and almost by accident, she took part in her first shot put competition and promptly beat the school record, which had stood for 20 years. She was spotted by coach Kirsten Hellier four years later, with the pair going on to form a partnership which lasted eleven years.
Determined to honour the memory of her mother, who died in 2000 following a long fight against cancer, Adams redoubled her training efforts. The hard work paid off. After winning the World Youth Championships in Debrecen (HUN) a year later, she followed up in 2002 with victory at the World Junior Championships in Kingston (JAM). In 2004, at the age of just 19, she competed in her first ever Olympic Games in Athens, finishing eighth despite having had her appendix removed only weeks earlier.
Competing under the name of Valerie Vili, following her marriage to discus thrower Bertrand Vili (the couple would divorce in 2010), the New Zealander won her first world title in Osaka in 2007 with a throw of 19.45m. A year later, on 16 August 2008, she went a step further and won her maiden Olympic title.
New Zealand’s first track and field gold medallist since John Walker won the 1500m at Montreal in 1976, she struggled to hold back the tears on the podium in Beijing, and later commented: “That was the most incredible moment of my life. It was 10 years of sweat and tears that got me to that point and I tried to savour the moment for as long as possible.”
Further world championship victories followed in Berlin in 2009 (20.44m) and Daegu (KOR) in 2011 (21.24 – a championship and Oceania record), while a second Olympic title came her way at London 2012, where she initially finished second with a throw of 20.70m but was later promoted to the gold medal.
In August 2013, Adams won a record fourth world shot put title with a throw of 20.88m. Following an operation on her ankle and knee a month later, she came back the following year to win a third indoor title in Sopot (POL) and a third Commonwealth crown in Glasgow (GBR). Such was her dominance of her sport, in fact, that she posted a record 56 consecutive victories in major meets between 2010 and 2014.
Adams’ triumphant progress was halted in 2015, when she underwent operations on her left shoulder and right elbow, as well as follow-up surgery on her knee.
Making her comeback in time for Rio 2016, the New Zealander has thrown over 20m in several competitions in recent weeks, including 20.19m in Budapest on 18 July, her best of the season. In continuing to hone her technique, she will look to find another couple of centimetres in Rio.
Standing 1.93m tall and weighing in at over 120kg, the imposing thrower is determined to continue her domination of her sport by winning an unprecedented third Olympic shot put title. One of only nine athletes (including Usain Bolt) to have won world track and field titles at youth, junior and senior levels, Adams is counting on more than just her large frame and hugely impressive record to gain a mental edge over her rivals.
“Come August 12, Valerie Adams will be out there with her googly eyes and her don’t-mess-with-me look, just wanting to smash the hell out of it,” the plain-speaking star told TV3 channel in June. “What happens on the day happens, but all I know is that I’m going to leave my heart and soul out there.”
Towering above most of her competitors, Adams credits her parents for her extraordinary physique. Her mother Lilika Ngauamo hailed from the Pacific island of Tonga, famed for its rugby players, while her father Sid was a former Royal Marine in the British Navy. The youngest of her 18 siblings is basketball player Steven Adams, a star of NBA team Oklahoma City Thunder. “It’s a great feeling watching Steven’s success, but I think the real star has to be our dad for gifting us amazing English genes, along with our Tongan genes: the perfect combination really.”