Athletics: Corlett and Adams have individually done enough for equal ranking

By David Leggat

New Zealand have nine women Olympic champions.

Yvette Corlett, Barbara Kendall, Sarah Ulmer, rowing twins Caroline Meyer and Georgina Earl, Lisa Carrington, Jo Aleh, Olivia Powrie and Valerie Adams have scaled the greatest heights.

The argument over New Zealand's best woman athlete got another solid airing this week in the wake of the mighty Adams' fourth world shot put title, to sit alongside two Olympic gold medals.

The assumption is that Adams, still just 28, will roll along, win at least one more Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, perhaps two, while another couple of world crowns are comfortably within her reach.

This presupposes that, a: the world won't throw up an athlete to legitimately match Adams, and b: that she wants to keep biffing the stone and not move her life/career off in a different direction.

Only Adams knows that and she seems an athlete thoroughly dedicated to pushing her talents to the limit for some time to come.

To this mind, only Corlett stands comparable, if not ahead of, Adams in terms of achievement.

Double scullers Meyer and Earl won back-to-back Olympic golds to go with three world titles; cyclist Ulmer is the only one of the group to have won her Olympic gold in a world record time; while Kendall's boardsailing gold in 1992, Carrington's kayak sprint and Aleh and Powrie further demonstrated New Zealand's prowess on the water.

But this comes down to splitting a woman for whom versatility was second nature, and one who in her specialist event is streets ahead of her opposition.

Peter Snell, three-time Olympic champion, world recordholder, the epitome of middle-distance running power, has been regarded, without too much argument, as the country's greatest sportsperson. That debate is for another day. But what about the women?

Adams cannot win world records. Her sport is forever tainted by the deeds of Eastern European drug cheats. The world best throw was 22.63m by Russian Natalya Lisovskaya in Moscow in 1987. Adams' personal best is 21.24m. She's not even in the top 10 of all time. Make what you like of that.

Corlett did set a world record, in the long jump at Gisborne in 1954. She was Olympic long jump champion, in a Games record, at Helsinki in 1952; won all three golds in long jump, discus and shot put at the Vancouver Empire Games in 1954, and made the final of the 80m hurdles for good measure, having marked herself as New Zealand's golden girl with long jump gold and javelin silver at the Auckland Games of 1950.

Think about it. What athlete could compete with equal facility across three field disciplines these days - and throw in considerable proficiency in the javelin, and represent New Zealand at basketball.

There's no point quibbling about standards now and then. Athletes cannot pick their era. They do their best at the time chosen for them.

When, and how, does Adams become undisputed No 1? For many she already is. But Corlett was first to Olympic gold, showed a generation and more New Zealand women what was possible. For that, sport in this country should be grateful.

Corlett and Adams. In distinctly different ways, and vastly different times, perhaps first among equals.

- NZ Herald

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