Athletics: Tough year all worth it, says Adams

Valerie Adams says winning at the world champs has given her confidence for the Olympics. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Valerie Adams says winning at the world champs has given her confidence for the Olympics. Photo / Brett Phibbs

After a period of considerable and consistent change over the past 18 months, Valerie Adams is looking forward to doing things the same for a change and it's an approach she hopes will deliver another Olympic gold medal.

The world, Olympic and Commonwealth champion endured a turbulent 2010 that saw her change her coach twice and the inevitable tinkering with her technique that came with it. After 11 years of listening to the same voice and doing the same thing, it was a challenging period.

Add in a divorce (it could be argued she experienced two given her closeness to former coach Kirsten Hellier) and a recent move to a tiny Swiss village to train, and life was as difficult as trying to remain the world's best shot putter. It was little wonder she suffered a handful of defeats to rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk in competition in 2010.

This year, however, has brought success and Adams plans to approach 2012 in similar fashion in the hope of doing it all again.

After all, the 27-year-old set a new personal best - her throw of 21.24m at August's world championships in Daegu, South Korea, was the longest throw by a female athlete in 11 years and 1.19m further than Ostapchuk - and was undefeated in 16 finals.

It earned her a nomination for the women's IAAF World Athlete of the Year title. Adams had been nominated three times before, but only ever on the extended list of 10 rather than the shortlist of three - the first time a New Zealander had been a finalist since the awards were introduced in 1988.

"I was pretty humbled to make it to the top three," Adams says.

"It's pretty cool. There are a lot of fantastic female athletes out there and I'm very honoured just to be counted in the top three. It was the icing on the cake for 2011 and to be honoured in this way is pretty awesome."

This year Adams spent months at the Swiss Federal Sports Academy in the village of Macolin (population 2000) where living quarters resembled a student hostel. She ate and trained with other athletes but it was a lonely existence for someone very close to her family.

Coach Jean-Pierre Egger, who took over from Frenchman Didier Poppe late in 2010, had been reluctant to agree to Adams' request to relocate to Switzerland and be closer to him because of the time it meant being away from family, but a bigger picture was at play. Adams might miss her loved ones but she didn't want to miss the opportunity of being in a position to win a second Olympic gold.

"It was pretty difficult for the first two months [in Switzerland]," she says. "It's quite isolated up there in Macolin and, when you're so far away from your home and family and there for such a long time, it's tough.

"But after getting to know a few people there, and I found some Kiwis who live at the bottom of the town, that all helped. When the season started it helped as well, because I had something to look forward to, like competing in London and Oslo. It was tough sometimes but life's not easy. You are there to train and do what you do and it's all part and parcel of the journey. You just have to suck it up and do it.

"The ultimate goal [of winning Olympic gold] makes it all worth it, absolutely. It keeps me going and keeps me motivated. My family does that, too.

"It has been a journey, especially from [the start of] 2010. It's been a pretty awesome journey. I wouldn't turn back time or change anything or the decisions I have made in my life. I have really enjoyed this year. I look forward to getting back and training harder and preparing for London."

Adams' Olympic preparations will start in a couple of weeks when she heads to Switzerland before returning with Egger to train in New Zealand in early January. The pair will head back to Europe at the end of February and the world indoor championships in Istanbul in March.

She won't return to New Zealand until after the Olympics in July and August when she will be expected to return with some additional baggage from London.

"No pressure," she quips. "It puts a lot of pressure on me [being favourite].

"Olympic year is a big year and it's different to any other year. It's the pinnacle of your sporting career so everyone is going to try to win and throw their hardest and train their hardest to be in the best shape possible. I will be doing exactly the same thing.

"It's a different ball game when you get there. What has happened in the year before is irrelevant, but winning at the world champs has given me that confidence for next year."

The signs had been good heading into world championships in Daegu. She had been training well in the lead-up to the event and had clinched a third world title when she stepped into the circle for her final throw.

It allowed her to relax and hurl the put an impressive 21.24m to equal the championship record set in 1987 by Russian Natalya Lisovskaya and set a New Zealand and Oceania record.

Adams' best is still only 22nd on the all-time list but many of those can be disregarded because they were set in the dirty days of the 1970s and '80s. She's clearly the world's best and the IAAF noticed.

How much further she can go is difficult to predict, especially as she is only getting to grips with the changes Egger has introduced to her technique and training.

But she admits she's in a happy place and, for Valerie Adams, that's an important place to be.

- APNZ

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