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Athletics: Adams clicks the tickets

It's all aboard the bus to the Rio Olympics -- but only if you have something to offer, writes Andrew Alderson.
Coach Jean-Pierre Egger is on Val Adams' bus. Photo / Doug Sherring
Coach Jean-Pierre Egger is on Val Adams' bus. Photo / Doug Sherring

Only the most committed passengers will get a ticket on Val Adams' bus to the Rio Olympics.

The double Olympic shot put champion, who has recovered from a 2015 season-ending injury and last month got engaged to partner Gabriel Price, has created the analogy of a bus journey to sum up what could be her final season as a professional athlete. Anyone on board must have a specific purpose.

Coach Jean-Pierre Egger, manager Nick Cowan, physiotherapist Louise Johnson and trainer Adam Storey are seated.

Each is valued for what they bring to a campaign which, if Adams wins gold at the Maracana Stadium on August 12, would see her achieve New Zealand sporting immortality as the first Kiwi Olympic champion at three consecutive Games.

"I'm the driver, because I am the only person on the team who is irreplaceable," Adams says, as she prepares to negotiate six months of heavy traffic. "And anyone on my bus is there to influence me in a positive way.

"If something is going on in someone's life that could influence me in a negative way, I need them to get off my bus. And I'm quite happy to kick them off my bus. I have to make sure I have the best people, and I believe I do.

"I get an opportunity to say, 'is everybody happy?' Then if there are any worries or frustrations at our [weekly] meetings, I need to say, 'stick to your knitting' or 'pay more attention to detail'.

Illustration / Andrew Louis
Illustration / Andrew Louis

"Regardless of whoever is on or off the bus, it's got to get to Rio. If someone gets off briefly, I'm happy to pick them up again at the next stop, but they need to be ready."

The windows are up and the air-conditioning is on, too.

That means the Zika mosquito causing havoc for organisers with the virus it transports should fail to distract Adams.

"I'm not an athlete who needs to go for two weeks to acclimatise [to Rio]. I like to pop in, do the business, and get out. I find it's better to be in an environment [beforehand] where I know the facilities, and eat food I know. I intend to arrive in Rio three to four days ahead [of competition], but will plan that closer to the event."

Adams' statements come with a matter-of-fact rather than Draconian delivery, but it's understandable she wants to set clear rules of engagement. She is confronting the biggest challenge of her sporting career and doesn't want another London 2012 debacle with the well-documented controversy over her entry paperwork and subsequent elevation to gold after Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk was disqualified for doping.

Valerie Kasanita Adams faced arguably the toughest of her 13 seasons as a professional athlete last year.

On one front, she struggled to recover from nerve surgery to her elbow which, because of restricted feeling in her little and ring fingers, meant the shot felt like a foreign object on release.

"My hand specialist said it would take a year," Adams says. "It did, but in my head I wanted it to recover in three months so I could be back training. The injury and surgery were bigger issues than we thought.

"It was hard to swallow, because I'd never missed a season, but by the third competition, I knew it wasn't going to be. I also had another issue with my knee, so I called it quits [before contesting the world championships].

"I am now training without the thought, 'this will hurt'. Last year, I trained in protection mode. Now, the elbow doesn't hurt 95 per cent of the time. The road to Rio won't be smooth, but I need to be in the best space possible to find my inner mongrel."

On a separate front, German rival Christina Schwanitz moved from pretender to contender in pursuit of Adams' crown as the 'queen of women's shot put', an unofficial title inherited in 2007 with the first of her record four world championships. China's Lijiao Gong and American Michelle Carter are others in the Rio medals mix with their ability to pass 20m.

Last year, Adams returned to competition in July with a distance of 18.79m to finish fifth at the Diamond League in Paris, a performance which ended a reign of 56 consecutive victories from August 2010. It was her best effort of the season.

Schwanitz won. She and Adams exchanged a hug and a handshake as the mantle of dominance passed temporarily. The 30-year-old German set a personal best of 20.77m in May and went on to win her maiden world championship.

Adams has not gone beyond that mark since beating Schwanitz with 20.88m at the 2013 world championships.

"I'm defending Olympic champion, so I will put pressure on myself to fight like an animal to win that medal," Adams says. "Schwanitz is a good contender who has definitely come through in the last 12 months, the year I kaka-ed myself."

Adams' training regime is back at full throttle. She throws whatever her bus passengers suggest. That has included baseballs, tennis balls and netballs as her throwing arm returns.

Egger, the 72-year-old Swiss mentor she describes as "sweet" and "a delight to be around", has been in New Zealand for a fortnight.

"Every target JP has planned, we've hit up until the end of December. Every week, we've got better but it's good he's here. The technical aspects are hard to master without a coach on hand."

Adams' tentative programme will include the Auckland Track Challenge on February 25, the New Zealand Championships in Dunedin (March 4-6) and the world indoor championships (March 17-20) in Portland, Oregon.

Start the engine.

- Herald on Sunday

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