Wake up call golden for Adams' family

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 15/08/2012
Fairfax New Zealand

Valerie Adams' family send her a message.

Val Adams' family interviewed

Valerie Adams' family
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
TEAM ADAMS: Valerie Adams' family is thrilled she has now won the Olympic gold medal. Pictured at the family home in Mangere, Auckland (from left): Ana Ngauamu, Sharne Pupuke-Robati, 11, Kingston Pupuke-Robati, 4, Patricia Pupuke-Robati, Valana Pupuke-Robati, 7, and Kenneth Pupuke-Robati.

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Not long after ten o'clock on Monday night, the cell phone of Patricia Pupuke-Robati started ringing in the lounge of a house in Mangere, Auckland.

There was no chance she was going to answer it. Patricia was in bed, out to the world, after spending the majority of the last two days on planes travelling from London to Auckland.

She had watched her sister Valerie Adams try, but fail to defend her Olympic shot-put title in London. Watching instead Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk snare the gold, and her sister the silver.

Patricia's husband Ken, who had just arrived back from his late shift carting luggage at Auckland International Airport, picked up the ringing phone.

At first, all he could her was sobbing. He could barely recognise the voice, until he hear one single word. Gold.

It was her sister-in-law, Val, calling from Switzerland. Gold? he asked.

Yes, she said. Gold! Gold! Gold!

Ken raced into the bedroom. 'Wake up, wake up!'' he said. Patricia opened her eyes, confused.

''She's been done for drugs! VAL'S GOT GOLD!,'' Ken yelped.

'She' was Ostapchuk, just exposed by the IOC as a drug cheat, having tested positive to two Olympic drugs tests for the steroid metenolone.

Val had her gold, and her family, before anyone else on the planet, were the first people she would tell.

On the phone back in Switzerland, Adams was sitting in her car, sobbing and smiling. Alone, but not alone.

How do you make more than 18,000 kilometres feel like nothing at all? Easy. Just hear your family screaming with joy. Hear them stomping up and down the hallway of your childhood home in Mangere; a home where her mother Lilika Ngauamo, who died in 2000, and father Sydney Adams raised her.

Hear your nieces and nephews giggling. That's how you do it.

A week before, Patricia and her daughter, and Valerie's niece, Sharne, were in London, watching her compete, last Tuesday morning (NZ time).

It was the first time they'd seen her for four moths. They had prime seats, only 20 metres from the action.

Patricia screamed her lungs out as her big sister threw. Other people in the crowd turned their heads, and stared. Patricia didn't care.

But things turned. Ostapchuk made that massive throw, her third at 21.36 metres, and Patricia could sense it wasn't going to be Val's night. She'd throw three more, with two fouls, but it wouldn't be enough.

A proud Patricia just wanted to hug Val. She would - but would have to wait until after midnight that night in London with her sister having to fulfil her media, and Olympic, requirements first.

''For me and my family, we were proud of her, no matter what colour her medal was,'' Patricia said.

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''She's an amazing person, and she's a great role model. Not only for my kids, but for every other kid here, in where she came from, South Auckland.''

As a nation, New Zealand sees the achievements of its athletes at the Olympic Games and feel our hearts swell with a collective pride.

Those moments. When Mahe Drysdale collapsed on that pontoon after winning his gold. When Lisa Carrington surged home in that kayaking final. That look on triathlete Andrea Hewitt's face as she finished sixth. We rode their journey with them in London.

But within our four million strong, there will always be a small group of people that feel the intensity of those moments even more.

The families. Only they truly know how much their loved ones have sacrificed to be there. How long they've strived for their goal. How much blood, sweat and tears have gone into it.

How much success means. How much failure hurts.

Adams' family ride her roller coaster with her. Patricia and younger sister Ana ring or text Val almost every day, and Skype often too.

They're a close knit bunch, and it's hard to be away from her.

''[It] would be even harder if there was no cell phones or laptops, but we know she goes to Switzerland for a reason and that's something she loves to do,'' Patricia said.

''It's part of her life. We've learnt to support her all the way. We do really miss her.

''It's really hard when we are separated, because when we are together we just spend nearly everyday together, before she has to travel off again.''

A distance closed by those feelings on Monday night. Feelings that still bubble in the family's veins.

As for Ostapchuk, Patricia feels a sadness when she hears the name.

Not for the cheat herself, but for how she stole from her sister, the special moment of having her moment in the sun.

''It was a sad way for her to beat Val,'' she said. ''We've kept up with her and her sports because she's been the only person to beat Val, you know.

''It's always been them two, all the time. For me, if that's what it took her, just to beat Val, for her to have her turn on the podium, [it] wasn't really hers.

''We were all there. She took that moment away from Val, and from me and Sharne, who went to see her. For us not to hear our nation's anthem, and that.

''Ostapchuk will have to live with it for the rest of her life, really. Val's got her gold. And that's it. She did it the clean natural way.''

There's already talk of what the country should do to honour Val. Pack out Eden Park, some are saying. We'll give our Val her her own medal ceremony.

Val's family like the idea.

They like that she'll get to hear the national anthem, the one that was cruelly taken from her in London, in front of thousands of Kiwis.

But they've already started planning their own special ceremony too.

Back in Mangere, at the family home. Just family and friends invited. A big Tongan-style feast, with all the trimmings.

Guests - you better bring an appetite.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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