Athletics: Adams' season back on track

By Dylan Cleaver

A win and help from a track and field legend have boosted Valerie Adams' confidence. Photo / Greg Bowker
A win and help from a track and field legend have boosted Valerie Adams' confidence. Photo / Greg Bowker

Ten days in the company of a track and field legend helped Valerie Adams get her season back on track.

Adams, 25, endured a frustrating Diamond League season where she consistently finished behind rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk.

However, a 20.86m throw to win in Split, Croatia, this month - their final head-to-head clash of the year - has her in a sunnier frame of mind before the Commonwealth Games.

That throw came after she spent some time in Switzerland with Werner Gunthor, winner of three world championships between 1987 and 1993, and his coach Jean-Pierre Egger.

"If nothing else they gave her a lot of confidence," said manager Nick Cowan.

In Adams' own words it has been a "long bloody year", but the win at the Continental Cup has her convinced that she is on track with the technical changes implemented by new coach Didier Poppe.

"Physically, right now I can throw 21m if I get all the technical aspects into place and nail it.

"I was pretty happy to finish off my season on a high, because I was chasing Ostapchuk."

The South Auckland shot putter is a realist and knows she will not face anyone in the class of Belarusian Ostapchuk at Delhi. Cleopatra Borel-Brown of Trinidad and Tobago should be her closest rival, but with a personal best of 19.30m she is operating on a different scale from Adams.

"The standard is really low, it's really poor in the Commonwealth. If you put me and Cleo aside, the standard is pretty poor."

Adams will not be short of motivation, even if she's the prohibitive favourite. There's her championship record set four years ago in Melbourne to break and the rare experience of performing in front of teammates.

The Olympic champion was the lone New Zealander on the Diamond League circuit.

During a year when she went through two major break-ups - with coach Kirsten Hellier and husband Bertrand Vili - and had her share of frustrations bedding in new techniques and training schedules, it must have seemed all the more lonely.

"There have been a few bumps along the way but that's to be expected when you've done something for 11 years and been with someone for 11 years," Adams said. "Change is hard, but change is also good. I said right from the start that I've got to go down before I come back up and that's obviously happened this year.

"There's been a lot of frustrating days for me as an athlete trying to go out there and perform with everybody's expectations on my shoulder.

"I fought every competition to the end, I stayed in second place and finally in the last competition I came through with a big throw."

The accepted wisdom is that Adams is the strongest female shot putter in the world; Ostapchuk is the fastest. Run footage of them back to back and the difference is stark.

Distilled to its most basic, the goal is to make Adams as fast and as fluid through the circle without compromising any of her strength or power.

"If Valerie could get the same speed as Ostapchuk it would be the perfect athlete. We are looking for something perfect," Poppe said.

The changes made to her technique to facilitate this goal are still a long way from second nature.

"It took me 11 years to reach 21m and it hasn't been six months with these boys," she said of her crew that includes power coach Mike McGuigan and strength and conditioning coach Matt Kritz.

"People want things to happen now, tomorrow ... When you're in my shoes, when you're an athlete or when you're coaches you're more realistic about the results and the expectation."

Poppe then called on the great tradition of French philosophers like Descartes and Sartre to "explain" Adams' future.

"The most difficult adversary for Valerie is Valerie herself ... . When Valerie can beat herself she can beat everybody."

- NZ Herald

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