Andrew Anderson looks back on the career of New Zealand sporting great Dame Valerie Adams after announcing her retirement from shot put.
Dame Valerie Kasanita Adams came dressed in a hot pink gown wrapped in a Tongan ta'ovala, the traditional woven mat around the waist, at her investiture in April 2017.
She identified herself as "the one in high-vis". Oh, the symbolism.
The 37-year-old has become an athletics beacon since unleashing her ballistic shot put power on the international stage two decades ago.
Adams has graduated to an elite rank in New Zealand sport. Yes, she is a household name with enough sporting bullion to splinter a mantelpiece, but that only tells part of her story.
A chutzpah built on humble south Auckland foundations empowers people to refer to her on a first-and-only name basis. "Val" has come some distance from a reluctant teenager first hiffing a metal ball at secondary school in Mangere East.
"Hopefully this will further encourage young people that they can do anything … if they put their minds to it," Adams said, after her anointment by the governor-general.
Silver at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games thrust her into the public eye as a 17-year-old. That collective gaze remained unflinching until this talismanic figure exited with bronze at the Tokyo Olympics last August.
Adams has grown up shadowed by scrutiny, sometimes via her own choice when privacy is sacrificed at the altar of celebrity magazine contracts to pay the bills. Her Olympic and world championship triumphs have sat cheek by jowl with injury and coaching dramas and further life minutiae such as marriage, divorce and motherhood. The telephoto lens of social media has also arguably provided less shelter to her than athletic peers of yesteryear such as Dame Yvette Corlett, Sir Peter Snell, Sir Murray Halberg, Sir John Walker and Jack Lovelock.
Irrespective, few New Zealand sportspeople are as familiar with stepping atop a podium.
The double Olympic champion's CV is enviable, but recognition with a damehood was as much about her impact on historically marginalised Pacific Islanders as it was about heaving a 4kg sphere. The thread of Adams' achievements can help New Zealand weave a more cosmopolitan cultural and sporting tapestry in the 21st century.
An example of her magnetism came in March 2013 at the Pacific Showcase Market on Auckland's waterfront. As part of the festivities, she competed in an exhibition meet at the far end of The Cloud.
Had the venue been a see-saw it would have dropped into the Waitemata Harbour as a crowd swarmed to glimpse her at work.
BULLDOZING BARRIERS is among Adams' core skills.
She is the only woman to win four consecutive athletics world championships in an individual event; she secured 107 straight victories at international-ranked meets from September 17, 2006 to July 4, 2015; she was the first female thrower awarded the world governing body's athlete of the year title in 2014; she is the only woman anointed as the Halberg supreme award winner three years in a row across 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Adams even shattered the gender divide in Tonga. She was appointed the first woman matapule or chief of Houma, the village of her late mother Lilika. She was bestowed with the name Tongi Tupe Oe Taua, to acknowledge the impact of her feats.
At Rio she literally came within a stone's throw of New Zealand Olympic immortality as the country's first athlete to win gold medals at three consecutive Games. American Michelle Carter pushed Adams to silver in the final round of competition.
The feat was finally achieved last year by Hamish Bond and Dame Lisa Carrington at Tokyo. Meanwhile Adams, after the birth of two children, joined Barbara Kendall as the only New Zealand women to compete at five Olympics when she threw at the Japan National Stadium.
ADAMS HAS endured her share of career hardships and toxic competitions.
She suffered the indignity of 'losing' to Belarusian drug cheat Nadzheya Ostapchuk at the London Olympics. Adams accepted silver, but eventually received gold at a ceremony in Auckland. To compound matters, bureaucratic bungling by New Zealand administrators initially failed to see her entered in the competition.
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 subsequently copped doping bans.
On that note, Adams has been strident in support of World Athletics' decision to place a ban on Russia after evidence of a systemic doping programme.
"To save our sport and prevent younger athletes from doing such stupid things, they needed to take a stance," she said in 2016.
"If you don't hold a chicken by its neck and tell it to stop, then you'll never sort the situation out.
"I have no sympathy, whatsoever. I've been done over myself because of drug cheats. People might think I'm heartless and cold, but that's sport. It's competitive and you've got to do what's best for you. It's not because it's my fault; it's their fault."
Adams is one of two female shot putters to win back-to-back Olympic titles. The other was Soviet Tamara Press in 1960 and 1964. Yet one barrier seemingly forever beyond her arc was the world record. She is 23rd on the all-time distance list, despite access to the wonders of modern sports science. Her 21.24m best was set at the 2011 world championships in South Korea. Soviet Natalya Lisovskaya's world record of 22.63m, set at Moscow in June 1987, remained 1.39m beyond her reach.
ADAMS BROKE the shackles of a difficult childhood to be crowned on the world sporting stage.
Records started tumbling soon after she strode into the circle at Southern Cross Campus aged 13. The school's Māori motto "inā te mahi he rangatira" translates in English to "by deeds a chief is known". Talk about a prophecy.
Adams has returned on occasion to the school's prizegiving, where one of her old shoes is presented as the pinnacle sports trophy.
"They don't present it every year," she said.
"It only goes to a sportsperson who they believe has the necessary drive and work ethic. That makes it feel special, much like what we're doing as athletes, making sacrifices and sweating it out to earn medals."
Adams' mother died when she was 15, but not before making her daughter promise she would do everything possible to fulfil her talents.
Dame Valerie has kept her word.