Valerie Adams: A True Champion

Valerie Adams after the gold medal ceremony in Auckland.

Valerie Adams – Olympic gold medallist for women’s shot put, London 2012. This is now officially what the record books will show.

Thank goodness for that. After the soap opera that has ensued over the last six weeks or so, Valerie has finally got the reward and closure she deserves.

Last Wednesday night’s spectacular gold medal ceremony for Valerie Adams provided a fitting conclusion to what has turned out to be the longest running event at the London Olympics, and the most testing campaign of Adams’ career. The gold medal is final confirmation that Adams is one of New Zealand’s greatest athletes and the best shot putter of modern times, certainly since drug testing became a mandatory and reliable part of the sport.

Adams won her second straight Olympic gold at the London games, but only after Nadzeya Ostapchuk was stripped of the title when she tested positive for the banned anabolic agent metenolone.

Since Ostapchuk was stripped of the gold, we have seen enough controversy and lies to make a politician proud (apologies for the analogy but election season is making me cynical). Ostapchuk claimed there was a conspiracy against her and the Belarusian team, and created a bizarre (and essentially libelous) story about Adams having tested positive for drugs in 2005, stating that this was the reason for Adams’ late entry into the shot put competition.

Adams has of course never tested positive for banned substances, and has never even been suspected of taking performance enhancing drugs. Instead she was the victim of an administrative blunder which saw her almost miss being registered for the event. This was a story in itself, but not the one that Ostapchuk was telling. Finally the blame was laid with Ostapchuk’s coach, who supposedly spiked her food to improve her performance after some unsuccessful training sessions. It’s hard to know what or who to believe in this sorry saga.

Through all of this Valerie Adams has been the consummate professional, waiting patiently for the medal she should have received on the medal dais in the Olympic Stadium.

When it was finally announced that the gold medal was on its way to New Zealand, there was a palpable sense of relief from the Adams camp, a feeling that was largely reflected by the greater New Zealand public. Six weeks felt like an eternity, but in hindsight the wheels of justice turned a lot quicker than they might have if the Belarusians had contested the stripping of Ostapchuk’s gold.

Adams quite rightly wanted to receive the medal as quickly as possible, and a suitable ceremony presentation was arranged, to be held on Auckland’s waterfront at the facility known as “The Cloud”. This venue was ostensibly built to act as a fan zone during the Rugby World Cup held last year, and has a fairly limited capacity. 2500 seats were made available for the event, of which 500 went to VIPs. The remaining 2000 were given away via chosen outlets, principally local radio stations. I was lucky enough to win 2 of these tickets so had the chance to witness what will almost certainly be the only time an Olympic gold medal is presented in New Zealand. For those who missed out on tickets the whole event would be streamed live online, as well as being broadcast on both major TV networks.

The crowd at the Cloud

So last Wednesday night my wife and I sat with 2500 other lucky Kiwis and saw Valerie finally get her due. She is already loved by the New Zealand public, but this was a way for us to celebrate publically her achievements throughout her career. The ceremony was brief, even if the preceding speeches were not, but all the words spoken were heartfelt and appropriate to the occasion.

The atmosphere in The Cloud was amazing, you could feel the collective sense of pride in Val and in being a Kiwi. For a few minutes we had Olympic fever again, a unifying combination of patriotism and goodwill that is seldom seen in New Zealand. It brings out the best in us, as it did during last year’s Rugby World Cup.

At the ceremony

The Governor General presented Valerie with her gold medal, surrounded by most of the NZ medallists from the London games. Val was brilliant. She held it together during the national anthem, but you could see the tears in her eyes. Surrounded by family, friends, fellow athletes and an adoring public, she couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate her victory after being cheated of that moment in London. To commemorate the occasion, there was a spectacular fireworks display on the Auckland and Wellington waterfronts immediately following the ceremony.

Celebratory fireworks

So where to now for Val? She has indicated she has no plans to retire and seems keen to have a tilt at a 3rd gold in Rio. This is great news for the sport, especially with the likelihood that Ostapchuk will face a lengthy ban from competition. The IAAF and WADA have not completed investigations into the matter, and the Belarusians effectively need to prove that Ostapchuk did not knowingly take drugs. This might prove difficult, in which case she could miss the Rio games and it could even potentially end her career.

The drop off in ability after these two is alarming – in recent Diamond League events  Adams has won by more than a metre – and there is no sign of an up and coming athlete to rival Adams. Perhaps the most likely challenge will come from China. The Chinese have made tremendous strides under Adams’ former coach Kirsten Hellier and Gong Lijiao fully deserved her belated bronze medal from London.

All of this is of no real concern to Valerie Adams, as always she will focus on her own performance and strive for even better results. She has set benchmarks in the sport throughout her career, there is no reason why she cannot continue to do this.

One thing is for sure, she will continue to show the impeccable character that has made her what she is, a true champion. In light of recent revelations regarding athletes like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, it has to be said that true champions are thin on the ground these days.

Good on you Val, a proud nation salutes you.

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