Valerie Adams: Giving it her best shot
Valerie Adams, the 2014 IAAF Athlete of the Year, is New Zealand’s most successful shot putter ever, boasting two Olympic titles and four world crowns.
“The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of your career,” says shot putter Valerie Adams, who was named 2014 World Athlete of the Year by the IAAF after a season during which she won all seven of the Diamond League meetings she entered. “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.”
Path to glory
Born in Rotorua, and one of 18 siblings, Adams was a shy child, who was often teased for her formidable height and size. She got her first taste of the shot put in 1994, when she smashed a school record that had stood for 20 years. She was spotted in 1998 by former javelin thrower, Kirsten Hellier, who went on to become her coach, and the pair formed a strong partnership that would last 11 years.
Determined to honour the memory of her mother, who died of cancer in 2000, the precocious competitor won the 2001 World Youth Championships in Debrecen (HUN) and the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston (JAM), prior to taking part in her first Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. Aged just 19, and despite having had her appendix removed a few weeks earlier, she finished in a creditable eighth position.
Tears in Beijing
Competing as Valerie Vili, following her marriage to discus thrower Bertrand (they would later divorce in 2010), she claimed her first IAAF World Championship title in 2007, thrilling the Osaka (JPN) crowds with a throw of 19.45m. On 16 August 2008 in Beijing, the New Zealander added an Olympic title to her CV thanks to her first effort of 20.56m, leaving the Belarusian pair of Natallia Mikhnevich and Nadzeya Ostapchuk to pick up silver and bronze respectively.
“That was the most incredible moment of my life,” she said. “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. Beating the Belarusian girls was a fantastic feeling, because they had dominated the sport for so long.” Tears flowed on the podium as the gold medal – New Zealand’s first in athletics at the Games since John Walker’s 1,500m triumph at Montreal 1976 – was placed around her neck.
Second gold in London
Two further world crowns followed, in Berlin in 2009 (20.44m) and in Daegu (KOR) in 2011 (21.24m, which equalled the championship record and set an Oceania record and personal best), as did an attempted Olympic title defence in 2012.
On 6 August in London’s Olympic Stadium, Adams initially finished second, her third throw of 20.70m proving insufficient to overcome Ostapchuk. However, the silver medallist from Beijing 2008 was disqualified for doping a few days later, which meant that Adams was crowned Olympic champion for the second Games running.
Long unbeaten run
On 12 August 2013, Adams, who was by now based in Switzerland, secured a record fourth World Championship victory in Moscow with a throw of 20.88m. Following an operation on her knee and ankle in September that year, she returned in style in 2014, collecting her third gold medals in both the IAAF World Indoor Championships, in Sopot (POL) in March, and at the Commonwealth Games, in Glasgow (GBR) in July. She also extended her international winning streak, which stretched back to August 2010, to 54 events. In November 2014, she was named the world’s best female athlete of the year at the IAAF Athletics Gala in Monaco. “This is the icing on the cake,” she said at the ceremony. “From a physical point of view, it was a difficult year, but I’m proud to be here representing New Zealand and Oceania. I love what I do; I love competing. I’ve got a high pain threshold, so that makes things a bit easier.”