Silver medal at Olympics not to be sniffed at

TONY SMITH IN LONDON
Last updated 08:46 07/08/2012
New Zealand's Valerie Adams reacts after failing in her bid to win gold in the women's shot put final at the London Olympics.
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
ALL OVER: New Zealand's Valerie Adams reacts after failing in her bid to win gold in the women's shot put final at the London Olympics.

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OPINION: A little minx from Minsk has just rained on our Olympic Games track and field parade.

They'll be weeping into the Weetbix throughout New Zealand at Belarus' Nadzeya Ostapchuk's victory over Valerie Adams in the women's shot put final in London this morning.

After emerging unbeaten from 24 contests, Adams was widely anticipated to be on track to become the first New Zealander to win consecutive gold medals in the track and field arena at three consecutive Olympic Games.

She was the champion in Beijing, was expected to retain her crown here and should still be in her prime in 2016 at Rio when the Aucklander will only be 31.

But it all came unstuck today – and Adams had to settle for the silver medal.

Ostapchuk did a victory lap after tearfully hugging her coach in the stands. Adams choked back her disappointment and shook her rival's hand.

We may never know how much the controversy over her omission from the start list affected Adam.

Was the New Zealand Olympic Committee's inept administration error still playing on her mind when she entered the arena?

Or was it simply a case, as so many sporting outcomes are, of a world champion being beaten by the better thrower on the day?

It's not as if Ostapchuk was some rank outsider. She's been one of the best shot putters on the planet for a decade and she peaked perfectly at the right time.

The 31-year-old hit a rich vein of form in July, culminating in a season-best 21.58m throw.

That was 47cm more than Adams had accrued in the lead-up to London.

Yet there was still a sneaking suspicion that all Ostapchuk's biggest efforts were achieved at home in Belarus and she might fade in the bright lights of London.

She certainly seemed out of sorts in Beijing's Birds' Nest stadium four years ago. Adams won without barely raising a sweat after an intimidating first-round throw. But Ostapchuk could only finish third behind her compatriot Natallia Mikhnevich.

Most international shot putters live in Adams' shadow -  she's 1.93m tall, after all. Ostapchuk has had to play second fiddle since 2007 but she's been one of the best shot putters in the world for a decade.

The former world junior champion stepped up to the senior ranks and was second at the 2003 world championships in Paris. She finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Olympics but became world champion the following year before playing second fiddle to Adams at Osaka in 2007 and Daegu, south Korea last year.

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Basketball was Ostapchuk's first sporting love as a girl in southern Belarus. But she turned down a professional contract because her mother felt she was too young to leave home.

Ostapchuk claimed she started taking her career more seriously in her late 20s after her below-par performance in Beijing.

"I treat everything in my life a lot more seriously than a few years ago,'' she said in an interview on www.european-athletics.org.

"I've changed my technique but I also changed my lifestyle. There are no discotheques no more and I go to sleep earlier.''

You could sense she meant business right from her first throw of the qualifying round at Olympic Stadium last night.

Ostapchuk was a model of economy and execution as she stepped into the circle and promptly recorded 20.76m to become the first automatic qualifier for this morning's final.

Adams had her problems, fouling her first-round throw. But she atoned with her next attempt, gliding through the circle to push the shot out to 20.40m.

In the final, Adams set out her stall with a first-round leading effort of 20.61m. But she seemed to lose her rhythm on her second throw, registering another foul.

That's where ice-cool Ostapchuk struck with a herculean 21.31 - her fourth throw over 21.30m in the space of a month.

The deal was sealed then with Ostapchuk sending four consecutive throws beyond 21m and Adams suffering the ignominy of three no-throws.

Today was the turn of a former Belarus basketball junior to put Valerie Adams through the hoops.

But Adams can come again.  She'll be 31 in Rio in 2016 and still in her prime.

A silver medal isn't to be sniffed at. This is a rivalry yet to run its course. But Belarus ruled the roost this morning.

- Stuff

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