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New Zealand's Greatest Olympians - Number 6: Val Adams

We're counting down New Zealand's 25 greatest Olympians. Today, Val Adams.
Adams and her coach Kirstin Hellier are elated as her shot put victory is sealed at Beijing's National Stadium on day eight of the 2008 Games. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Adams and her coach Kirstin Hellier are elated as her shot put victory is sealed at Beijing's National Stadium on day eight of the 2008 Games. Photo / Kenny Rodger

• Gold: Shot put, Beijing, 2008
• Gold: Shot put, London, 2012

If Valerie Adams becomes the first New Zealander to win gold medals at three consecutive Olympics, she will likely top this list ahead of the Tokyo Games in 2020.

Among Kiwis, only Adams, runner Peter Snell, rowers Dick Joyce, Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell, coxswain Simon Dickie, kayakers Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald and equestrian rider Mark Todd have won golds at consecutive Games.

Breaking barriers are nothing new for Adams. She is the only woman to win four consecutive shot put world championships, set a record 56 straight victories at international-ranked meets between August 2010 and July 2015, and became the first female thrower to be awarded the world governing body's 'athlete of the year' title.

Adams even shattered the gender divide in Tonga when appointed the first woman matapule or chief from her village Houma.

She and Soviet Tamara Press (1960 and 1964) are the only female shot putters to win back-to-back Olympic titles.

The only barrier seemingly beyond her arc is the world record. Adams' best performance of 21.24m, set at the 2011 world championships in South Korea, ranks her 23rd on the all-time distance list. The 22.63m world record was set by Soviet Natalya Lisovskaya at Moscow in June 1987.

Adams suffered the indignity of 'losing' to Belarusian drug cheat Nadzheya Ostapchuk at the London Olympics. She had no option but to accept silver on the dais but later received gold from then Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, at a ceremony in Auckland.

As a 19-year-old at her maiden Games in Athens she missed the top eight and the opportunity for three more throws. Four of those ahead of her have since received doping bans.

However, a put of 20.05m to win the Monaco Diamond League this month, against the majority of her key rivals, places her in contention to win a third gold. It was her first competitive throw beyond 20m since 2014.

Adams often refers to driving her 'bus', a metaphor of inclusivity for those assisting her sporting ambitions. Coach Jean-Pierre Egger is one passenger at the core of her Olympic dream, much like former mentor Kirsten Hellier in 2008.

Egger met Adams 14 years ago in Auckland when working as strength and conditioning coach for Alinghi in the America's Cup build-up.

"I immediately recognised the possibilities," he said. "I remember saying to Kirsten, 'you have gold in your hands'."

Adams decided she wanted to work with Egger fulltime in 2010 after a short stint with Didier Poppe.

"He's like a father to me. I love the man," Adams said. "I'm like his long-lost child. He looks after me as a person as much as an athlete. We can talk about anything: politics, religion, family, you name it.

"Jean-Pierre has two daughters and I say to them 'thank you for lending me your father'. [His wife] Beatrice has been loving and supportive as well."

There are two constants in Adams career personnel. The first is her "Lou-li-belle", physiotherapist Louise Johnson. She has often given Adams the support and physical motivation to keep competing.

The second are the fans from her South Auckland origins. A rare home appearance at The Cloud in March 2013 brought a wave of support from those who witnessed Adams rise as a beacon of hope from their midst.

Adams is mobbed by students at Macleans College in Bucklands Beach after her victory in Beijing. Photo / Greg Bowker
Adams is mobbed by students at Macleans College in Bucklands Beach after her victory in Beijing. Photo / Greg Bowker

Their "Val" broke the shackles of a difficult childhood to be crowned on the world sporting stage. Few will root for her more on August 12 in Rio.

Biography: Val Adams

Adams is a four-time world champion, three-time world indoor champion, two-time Olympic champion and three-time Commonwealth champion.

She is one of only nine athletes, a group which also includes Usain Bolt, to win world championships at the youth, junior, and senior level of an athletic event.

At her first Olympics, in 2004, Adams finished seventh, while still recovering from an appendectomy she had just weeks before the competition.

Her youngest sibling is NBA basketballer Steven Adams and two other brothers have played professional basketball in New Zealand.

How we did it

This list was drawn up by expert Herald and Radio Sport journalists from our team covering the Rio Olympics.

It wasn't easy, partly because of the number of fantastic feats over the last century or so and partly because of the difficulty of comparing performances across sports and eras.

The first ground rule was that only gold medallists would be considered. That was tough considering the likes of Nick Willis (silver, 2008), Dick Quax (silver, 1976), Paul Kingsman (bronze, 1988) and Bevan Docherty (silver and bronze, 2004 & 2008) provided some of our most memorable Olympic moments.

We also agreed potential success in Rio wouldn't be taken into account. The list was also restricted to the Summer Olympics, otherwise Annelise Coberger, our only Winter Olympics medallist may have featured quite prominently.

Each member of the panel wrote their own list before we came together to thrash it out five at a time. It was a head-scratcher, but in a good way because it was a celebration of success.

List so far

No 25: Alan Thompson
No 24: Norman Read
No 23: Ted Morgan

No 22: Sir Russell Coutts
No 21: Paul MacDonald
No 20: Hamish Bond and Eric Murray
No 19: Rob Waddell
No 18: Bruce Kendall
No 17: Mahe Drysdale

No 16: Hamish Carter
No 15: Sir Murray Halberg
No 14: The 1976 men's hockey team
No 13: Sir John Walker
No 12: Ian Ferguson
No 11: Sarah Ulmer
No 10: Jack Lovelock
No 9: Blyth Tait
No 8: Barbara Kendall
No 7: The 1972 rowing eight

- NZ Herald

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