Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Olympics: Val's cauldron boiled over

Valerie Adams' Olympics really started to unravel in the cauldron of the Olympic call room - where the full impact of the infamous "administrative error" hit home just before she competed.

Adams ended up with a great deal more to cope with than just pointing out she had been left off the entry list on the day before her controversial silver medal in the shot put.

A Herald on Sunday inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Adams' Olympic campaign has uncovered the story of how she was ambushed by the effects of the error on the first day of competition. It also revealed some puzzling laxity regarding the treatment of one of New Zealand's leading gold medal hopes - and which clearly added to putting Adams off her Olympic stroke.

The Adams camp has buttoned down, not wanting to appear as though they are making excuses for her loss to Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus.

Already, some media commentators and fans are suggesting the error that saw Adams left off the start list was a "smokescreen" and that Adams should simply admit she was beaten by a better athlete on the day.

New Zealand's clobbering machine does not always help athletes speak their mind.

However, after talking to sources inside and outside the New Zealand team, the Herald on Sunday can reveal:That Adams was throwing distances greater than that achieved by Ostapchuk for the gold medal before Adams left her training base in Switzerland for the Games. It is understood she threw 21.80m in training and went to London believing that 21.50m would win gold. Ostapchuk threw 21.36m; Adams 20.70m.That Adams had a brush with New Zealand officials over her Games accommodation.That the entry list error, even after it was rectified, came back to bite her as the shot put competition began.

Those close to Adams realised quickly she was not wearing her normal "game face" when the competition began. The normally intimidating Adams seemed intimidated - or at least distracted and upset; out of her normal rhythm.

That was because of the accommodation and entry list snafus. Before she arrived in London, Adams had asked for a room on her own or, if that couldn't happen, a room with new Olympic 1500m athlete Lucy van Dalen. She was looking forward to mentoring and to sharing a room with someone she could help through the pressures of the Games.

A room on your own is afforded to few athletes but the request is not as exclusivist as it may sound. Adams was, along with rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, New Zealand's best chance of a gold medal and some careful handling of such athletes makes sense.

However, all that was made available to Adams was a room without windows, airless and with no air conditioning - which her coach rejected out of hand. A room with van Dalen was organised. However, Adams was not amused when she arrived in the Olympic village to find that marathoner Kim Smith and heptathlete Sarah Cowley had rooms to themselves. She had no quarrel with that though it remains moot whether a defending Olympic champion might receive slightly preferential treatment in aid of a gold medal.

According to sources inside the New Zealand team, Adams put all that behind her although, as one put it: "She needed everything to go smoothly after that, so she could put all of her energy and focus into the shot and being the defending Olympic champion. You imagine the intense pressure she was under and the very real need for her to be able to channel all her being into an event as explosive as the shot put. People just don't realise how these things can affect an Olympic athlete."

But it didn't go smoothly. The day before her competition, as has now been widely documented, Adams herself discovered she had been left off the starting list and contacted New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie to rectify matters.

She was put on the starting list but, as the athletes gathered in the call room before the qualifying round, her pre-competition rituals were shattered when she again found she was not on the competition list. An upset Adams collared officials, having to detail the mistake all over again.

Apparently, even though the Olympic machine had re-entered her name in the system, it hadn't filtered down to the clip boards of the officials in the call room.

Adams had to insist that the officials make telephone calls and contact others on walkie-talkies to right matters. They did - and she was put on to the starting list all over again.

But she ended up being the 16th thrower out of 16 to throw and ended up being placed in Ostapchuk's section when, had everything gone smoothly, the two would have been placed in separate sections for qualifying. Minor, maybe, but add it all up and assess the impact on an athlete's psyche already scarred by mishaps.

The call room is also an intensely unsettling environment. All the competing athletes are gathered there immediately before competition. It is a strange place - imagine the atmosphere if the All Blacks were sat in the same room as the Springboks before a Rugby World Cup final, for instance. Yet that is what Olympic athletes do. It is a place where competitions can be won or lost. Mind games are often played there and Adams, in her intimidating mode, was adept at that.

"But what happened this time was that Val had to tackle the officials," said one source.

"Instead of psyching everyone out, she was thrown out by her name not being there - and all the time Ostapchuk would have been listening; figuring her chances of a gold medal were getting better and better."

Three-time Olympic javelin medallist Steve Backley once said that the call room often provided a sense of vulnerability from some athletes in the brief time before the start of the competition.

"You knew some athletes were beaten in the call room, especially when it was raining," said Backley. "At the 1990 European Championships I remember some of the athletes were talking about how wet they were during warm up. I knew then they were beaten men."

Former world 800m record holder Wilson Kipketer revelled in the call room intensity. He said it was important to exude an air of superiority to rivals during this key pre-race period.

"You have to show that you are the man," Kipketer said. "You have to take control, send out a message through your body language."

But the only message Adams was able to send was that something was wrong.

- Herald on Sunday

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