sábado, 17 de diciembre de 2011

Valerie Adams Back on the Top

Valerie Adams celebrates her victory in Daegu, holding the national flag and a picture of his coach Jean-Pierre Egger
Photo: Reuters           http://www.stuff.co.nz 
           Valerie Adams has always had an emotional attachment to the shot put discipline. She remembers watching with her mother on TV Cathy Freeman standing with the torch at the opening ceremony of Sidney Olympic Games, and how she dreamt of being part of it in the future. Mum would never be able of living that special moment for her daughter because she passed away just the day afterwards.  Concentrating in shot put practise helped the 15-year-old Valerie coping with her progenitor's untimely death. Also did her coach Kirsten Hellier, who would become a sort of second mother for her.
            Adams was born the 6th October 1984 in Rorotua, New Zealand, from an English father and a Tongan mother. As the biggest kid in school (she is now 1.96 metres tall), she was soon encouraged to the shot put event. Kirsten Hellier, a former Commonwealth silver medallist at the javelin, spotted Adams in 1998 and would be training her for the next 11 years. With Hellier she would be improving every season, from 14.15 in 1999 to reach 21.07 ten years afterwards. Her first international victory came at 2001 World Youth Championships in Debrecen and she followed this up adding the Junior crown in Kingston one year later. Still 18 Valerie achieved an astounding fifth place at the 2003 World championships and her Olympic dream came true at Athens. Yet her ambition was not only to participate. For the first time in a global senior contest she climbed to the podium at Helsinki Worlds to collect the bronze medal. Then the number one was Belarus Nadzeya Ostapchuk.
            The girl from Rorotua showed her credentials at the 2006 season, where she achieved two major victories, at the Commonwealth Games and Continental Cup, and broke for the first time the 20 meter barrier. She was finally ready to upset the best and she did at the World championships in Osaka. After trailing Ostapchuk all over the contest, Adams ended up her competition with a massive 20.54 new area record, which her Belarusian archrival could not match. Thus she became the youngest shot put champion in the history of the championships with 22 years and the second world gold medallist from her country, after another thrower, Beatrice Faumuina, who won the discus in 1997.  With this triumph Adams joined Jana Pittmann, Yelena Isinbayeva and Veronica Campbell at the illustrious club of women, who have been winners at World youth, junior and senior level. (1) His father had recently died and Valerie would dedicate in tears, her victory to his memory and also to her other inspiration in life and sport: her mother.    
              Since that victory Valerie Adams became the uncontested leader of the event. Nobody could beat her in the following two seasons, holding a remarkable winning streak of 28 finals. After grabbing also the world indoor title, the towering New Zealander showed special consistency at Beijing Olympics, producing 20 metres in every one of her five valid throws, to win the first gold medal for her nation since middle distance runner John Walker’s victory in 1976. (2) She also defended her world title in Berlin. Then came the crisis.

Valerie Adams and Coach Kirsten Hellier at the 2009 Halberg Awards
Photo: John Selkirk


            After some disappointing years Nadzeya Ostapchuk was back in full strength not wanting to be the bridesmaid anymore. She started the 2010 winter season with a huge 21.70; the best throw indoors or out since 1988. Then she broke Adam’s streak, winning with ease at the World indoor championships in Doha and continued in the same fashion during the summer, beating her archrival in seven more occasions. (3) The struggling New Zealander only seemed to find her way at the end of the year getting the better of the Belarus at their last clash of the season at the Continental Cup. Adams had stagnated. For the first time in her career she had not improved her PB during the year and moreover had not response to the renovated Ostapchuk. Some said her star had started to fade. The Olympic champion felt the old ways were not to produce positive answers anymore and decided to split up with the woman who had brought her to the top, Kirsten Hellier; a really painful move, after 11 years sharing happiness and tears. (4) She first changed to teen sensation Jacko Gill’s coach Daniel Poppe; then to Swiss Jean-Pierre Egger, the man who had trained legendary three times world champion Werner Günthör. Similar breaking up arrived to her marriage with New Caledonian discus thrower Bertrand Vili. 2010 was really a year to forget for Valerie Adams.

                After the 2010 problematic season, Adams moved her training base to a Swiss mountain to join Egger; in complete solitude for nine months to start anew and find herself again. (5) Without a doubt, the first months were really depressing and “pretty boring”, being away from her family, following a hard training regime, then back home for having a bath, watching some TV and going to bed. Then she met a Kiwi family at the foot of the mountain and it started to change her routine somewhat. "It was tough. I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. The season had not started and my first competition in Europe was still two months away. Every day, every week, was a grind. But I knew I was there for a reason. There was purpose.” (5)

           The sacrifices paid off and Valerie Adams was back in winning days. Jean-Pierre Egger had transformed the New Zealander into a more dynamic and athletic shot putter, who recovered faster. At the same time she had improved on her technique: she had always relied on her strength to win competitions but now she had something more to offer. Finally, confidence was back and also the passion for training. Valerie beat Nadzeya at the Bislett Games and also at three other Diamond League meetings. The Belarus was again leading the world lists with 20.94 but the general feeling was the world champion was in the right way to get a hat trick of titles, and she lived up to the expectations in Daegu, leaving the indoor title holder more than one metre behind. With the gold medal in her pocket, Adams had one attempt left and with no pressure she delivered a monster throw, reaching 21.24, a new personal best and a championship record. (6) Now she was equal to the great Astrid Kumbernuss, the only other athlete who had accomplished three world victories in the event.   
              For 2012 Valerie is aiming to regain her indoor title and defend at the Olympic Games. There are also questions about how far can she throw now after her demonstration in Daegu. When asked about the world record she is plain enough: “I do not really give a damn about it.” (5) She acknowledges the 22.63 Natalya Lisovsaya produced back in 1987 are unaffordable for reasons everybody knows. Valerie Adams instead focuses in winning titles and improving on her personal best. She is still 27 and has chances of matching Peter Snell, as the Kiwi with more Olympic gold medals, in Rio de Janeiro, but Valerie does not think so long: first she must do her best in order to win her second Olympic title in London.    

Valerie Adams proud of her competition at Daegu World Championships
Photo: Getty Images/ IAAF