Valerie Adams made more history during a recent trip to Tonga when she was awarded the title of chief and invited to a feast with the King and Queen, writes Andrew Alderson

Arise, Tongi Tupe Oe Taua.With a sip of kava, Val Adams had her new Tongan name bestowed and became the first woman in the history of her village Houma to be anointed a matapule, or chief.

Breaking barriers are nothing new for the double Olympic shot put champion but this shattering of the gender divide underlined the impact of her athletic feats on the Pacific Island community and particularly Matapa, the corner of the village from which her mum hails. It was the Tongan cultural equivalent of throwing beyond the 22m mark - her best is 21.24m.


Alipate Tu'ivanuavou Vaea, known as Lord Vaea, with Valerie Adams in Tonga. Photo / Supplied

Valerie Adams (at left, in red) during a kava ceremony at which she received the high honour of a chiefly title. Photo / Supplied

It completes a year of supreme achievement. Adams won the world indoor championships in Poland, maintained her record of 56 consecutive victories at international-ranked meets and was the first female thrower to be awarded the IAAF world governing body's athlete of the year.

She flew to Tonga with partner Gabriel Price for a Christmas holiday when they intended to give back to a community which have revered her feats. She received the ultimate local tribute instead.

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"I found out an hour before it started," Adams says. "It was a full-on kava ceremony before a crowd in front of a tent. They smashed up the plant and sieved it through water. It was fresh. There were only three of us [to be honoured]. They called my name, there was a clap, they brought the kava and then laid out my name and why they'd given it to me."
She was presented with the honour by the minister of sport and village local, Lord Vaea.

"It's unusual for a female but I don't like doing the norm," Adams laughs. "If it motivates Tongan people to live healthy lives, then why not?"

As repayment, Adams has already laid plans to do more sports coaching and mentoring in the Pacific Islands. Tonga has a solitary silver Olympic medal to boxer Paea Wolfgramm in the 1996 super-heavyweight division.

Adams' management team and the associate minister for sport and recreation, Murray McCully, are in discussions.

Adams has reached VIP status among the locals. She also indulged in a feast at the royal palace alongside King Tupou VI and Queen Nanasipau'u, Lord Vaea's sister.

She and Price mingled with nobility from the neighbouring islands and ambassadors from China and Japan.

"You've got to make yourself look presentable by wearing the ta'ovala [the traditional mat around the waist]. That's the way it is. If a foreigner didn't do it, it wouldn't be a big deal, but what I wear reflects on my family.

"I spoke briefly to the King, then the Queen, who's from my mum's village. She said she'd spoken to her granddaughter who wants to be the next 'Val Adams'. She wants me to come over and train her.

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"Gabriel and I sat at the front table. I let him do all the indulging while I picked the fruit and the best stuff."

The only down side to Adams' visit came when she and Price left the royal function early to travel across the island to the airport, only to discover their flight didn't exist. She
lamented the lack of customer service but said earlier reports of her flight being in danger of crashing when it skidded on the runway were exaggerated.


There were also light-hearted moments between the formalities for Valerie Adams. Photo / Supplied

"On the tarmac, we taxied out and the pilot kept revving the engine then he'd take it back down. One side of the plane slid to the side a little so he called the passengers and said, 'this is not going to work out, so I'm taking the plane back to the terminal'. The pilot did his job."

Valerie's road to recovery

Adams' focus returns to recovery with yesterday's arrival of coach Jean-Pierre Egger from Switzerland.

She had post-season surgery on her left shoulder and right elbow. Egger is tasked with ensuring her steady return to peak fitness and received weekly reports from her recovery team at Auckland's Millennium Institute.

"I've got to be sensible," Adams says. "I'm not 21 any more so there's no trying to be a hero and take on the world. I'm trying a few different things. This Tongan ain't made for running, but I'm giving it a good go.

"Physically, I've overcome a lot of barriers as the nerves repair millimetre by millimetre. I cleaned 60kg during the week and my elbow wasn't too sore. That's giving me confidence. I've been throwing with a lighter ball but it's more important just to throw properly and get my confidence back rather than rush. I don't want to compete for the sake of competing and throw 17m. I want to turn up and do damage."

That statement is understandable when you consider the pressure Adams faces to sustain an unbeaten record stretching back to August 2010. It's highlighted by an incident in
Morocco when she pulled out of the Continental Cup with injury.


Valerie Adams throws to win gold in the women's shot put at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker

"Last year, I had to dig deep when I was hurting. I was going to call it quits earlier in the year but I train to win. Thankfully, I'm mentally strong and stubborn so I can hold things through until the end.

"Before the names were called, I scratched myself and went back to the hotel. Someone said, 'congratulations' and I was like, 'what for?' I was super-upset. The person said, 'didn't you win the shot put?' and I had to tell them I didn't compete. It's just the assumption that's hard to deal with."

Such are the expectations that come for the new matapule, but any form of valedictory remains distant . . . at least beyond Rio.