Dame Valerie Adams in 'perfect spot' as she takes shot at fourth medal | Loop Vanuatu
 

Dame Valerie Adams in 'perfect spot' as she takes shot at fourth medal

Dame Valerie Adams has nothing to prove to anyone at these Tokyo Olympics, yet when you hear her coach talk about her readiness to sign off one of the great Kiwi sporting careers in style, you figure she might just do so anyway.

That would be so Val. So the great Dame. At 36, at her fifth Olympics, having had not one, but two babies during this Games cycle, to scale the mountaintop one last time would be not just the ultimate comeback tale, but a fitting note on which to wrap up a shot put career studded with glory.

Adams is very much the story of the New Zealand athletics team of 13 who will begin competition on Friday, not to mention one of the cast-iron medal hopes. She will lead the charge from the front too, with shot put qualifying set for opening night.

Adams’ Olympic pedigree is above reproach. The 10-time world champion won gold medals in Beijing in 2008 and London 2012, and was pipped on the final throw by American Michelle Carter in Rio 2016 when she had to settle for the silver. Now she’s back, against the odds, but fuelled by a desire to strike a blow for mothers and experienced athletes.

And, according to her coach Dale Stevenson, she is in not just ideal shape, but an ideal frame of mind for what should be a captivating women’s shot put competition, also featuring Auckland’s Maddison Wesche.

“She’s as ready as she’s ever been, in every sense – physically, technically and emotionally,” Stevenson, who also coaches Tom Walsh and Lauren Bruce, told Stuff this week. “The icing is on the cake, the dusting is on the icing, and there’s no more garnishing to put on it.”

Stevenson’s confidence comes from a buildup that has ticked pretty much all the boxes for his veteran charge. She threw solidly through the New Zealand domestic season, culminating in a standout 19.65 metres in Auckland that was her best in nearly five years.

Then came the important bit. She kissed goodbye to her husband and their two beautiful children – a sacrifice you knew she did with a heavy heart – and headed to the US and Europe to really put the seal on preparations for Tokyo.

“She’s in the perfect spot,” added Stevenson. “This isn’t Val’s first rodeo, but it was her first one in a while. Our main competition is in the USA and Europe, and we needed to go battle test just a little bit to remind Val what it’s like to be there.

“She more than held her own in training and competition, and I think she sent a few shots across the bow that she’s not done yet to the global athletics community.

“It served every purpose we needed it to.”

Stevenson spoke about Adams’ two big throws of the year being not just statement distances, but important results at the end of sequences of competition. He feels like they have figured out a vital formula.

“It’s a constantly moving puzzle because you can’t assume a 36-year-old is going to respond the same was as a young athlete. To have validation the work we’ve put in is getting the results we want is potentially more rewarding than the actual distance itself.”

Adams’ quest will not be easy. Her 19.75m is just the equal fourth best toss of the year. China’s Gong Lijiao (20.39m) and Americans Jessica Ramsey (20.12) and Raven Saunders (19.96) have all thrown further.

“It’s going to take 20 metres to win,” said Stevenson, who is hoping for a one-and-done qualifying appearance on Friday. “We’ve put ourselves in a position where we can mix it with those girls. We’re ready for it, and we’ll control what we can control.”

Walsh looms as the other likely Kiwi medallist in the men’s shot put, where he will have company in the form of Jacko Gill. But even Stevenson admits his charge faces a stiff task upsetting new world record holder (23.37m) and defending Olympic champion Ryan Crouser.

“We know we’re in for a battle, but part of the reason you play sport is to come up against the best at their best,” he added. “What better time to do that than at an Olympics against the world record-holder and Olympic champion? Tom is up for it, and I can tell you he’s in better shape now than he has ever been, including for the world championships in 2019.

“[But] it’s not necessarily going to be completely up to us, because we know there’s a guy there who can roll out of bed and throw 23 metres. We’ve got to be prepared to meet fire with fire come Tuesday next week.”

For Stevenson’s third athlete, Bruce, it’s a different Olympics as she lines up in the hammer throw alongside fellow Kiwi Julia Ratcliffe. At 24, and on her first international assignment, Stevenson says it’s “a free spin” for an athlete with nothing to prove. “But that doesn’t mean we’re sitting on our hands and chalking it up to experience,” he added. “She could be right in the mix with the distance she’s capable of throwing, and we know women’s hammer is a notoriously volatile event.”

For the rest of the Kiwi athletics lineup medals shape as long shots, at best. The 38-year-old, and two-time medallist, Nick Willis has history, if not recent form, in the 1500m, while 20-year-old Sam Tanner will be one worth watching in the same event as he makes his first appearance at this level.

Elsewhere Camille Buscomb will be looking to make finals in the women’s 5000 and 10,000 metres, Zane Robertson and Malcolm Hicks will be chasing high finishes in the marathon and Hamish Kerr (high jump) and Quentin Rew (50k walk) will look to tick off their own goals.

But all eyes will be on Adams’ quest for a fourth Olympic medal.