Valerie Adams finds ways to shoulder her load

Last updated 05:00 17/08/2014
POWDER FINGER: The forces of nature are taking their toll on Valerie Adams’ body as she pushes on to the next Olympics.
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POWDER FINGER: The forces of nature are taking their toll on Valerie Adams’ body as she pushes on to the next Olympics.

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PHIL GIFFORD unravels the drive behind Valerie Adams' quest to be the world's greatest female athlete.

The setting has echoes of a sepia-toned European movie. The streets are cobbled. Two little boys play with a homemade trolley.

On a warm Swiss evening in the old-town section of Biel, Valerie Adams is enjoying a chicken salad at her neighbourhood restaurant.

In Biel, a small but cosmopolitan city, the best shot putter in the world lives a quiet, dedicated life, still dominated by training, but no longer confined to what she calls the "prison cell" she used to live in at the Swiss Olympic camp at Macolin, near the top of a nearby mountain.

Since 2013 she has been able to leave the efficient but sterile surrounds of the camp and live in a first-floor apartment owned by a friend's family. The change has been vital for her career.

"Macolin served its purpose for the first two years I was here, but mentally I don't believe I could have kept going if I'd been living there. Down here I can come home and get away from the workplace, and do normal stuff.

"I love the fact I can't see my bedroom from my lounge, I can cook, I don't have to walk miles to do my laundry. You take all these things for granted when you're at home in New Zealand.

"There are pretty cool people living around here, whereas at Macolin you see the same people every morning, every night. Here you have a real break."

She's needed the happier surroundings this year.

The wear and tear of 15 years of intensive training, of hoisting huge weights day after day, has left its mark on her body.

"My left shoulder has been bugging me all season. I've had three cortisone shots to get through, and I'll have a fourth one to finish the season.

"Then when I go home I'll talk with my medical team about what my options are. Possibly surgery."

How badly did the shoulder problems affect her training, and then her throwing in competition?

"We thought about pulling the pin on the season. But the Commonwealth Games meant too much to me.

"It's difficult for [my coach] Jean-Pierre Egger, because we're so close, and he sees me going through pain. He's been very good and we had to alter training during May and June when the shoulder was just being horrible.

"Even after the Games I could have pulled the plug, but I've never missed a season. Last year I nearly pulled the plug because of my knee problems, but I have the mental ability to get through."

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Nobody really needed a reminder of how competitive Adams is, but in this year's Diamond League meets - outside world championships and the Olympics the most intense events in world track and field - she was something of a wounded champion, with the pack snapping at her heels.

"Twice this year the [other] girls had a chance to kick my ass. We're talking about winning by 15 centimetres in one case. They've had the opportunity, but nobody has come through and taken it. I will fight tooth and nail to win every competition."

The next major competition is the world outdoors in Beijing in August next year. Whatever treatment she has for her shoulder this New Zealand summer, the aim is to be in Beijing vying for a fifth successive world title.

No female athlete has ever achieved the feat. Just one male, Ukranian pole vaulter Sergey Bubka, has won more, taking his sixth successive title in 1997.

Adams is philosophical about the physical costs of sport at her level.

There was surgery on her knee and ankle last year; possibly shoulder surgery this year.

"It's just wear and tear, from years and years of doing what I do.

"I know I'm not 21 anymore, so I can't expect to be jumping out of bed with no pain.

"If I ever woke up with no niggles, I'd shout a party for the world. But I know it won't happen.

"The bigger picture here is Rio [the 2016 Olympics]. If we can get these problems fixed now, I am stubborn and I can overcome these things."

Four weeks after she carried the New Zealand flag at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Adams retains some of the buzz from the Games.

"Carrying the flag was one if the proudest moments I've had.

"It doesn't come around very often, sometimes for an athlete it doesn't come around at all."

A good number of athletes don't march in opening ceremonies. Glasgow was the first time Adams had marched since her first Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.

As much as they might enjoy it, no coach would suggest several hours standing while waiting to enter the stadium, and then getting back to the village well after midnight as an ideal preparation before an event.

"It's not because we don't want to, but you don't want to jeopardise your chances of getting a medal. At the end of it, if you haven't won, you don't want to be thinking ‘What if I hadn't?"'

For her, while determined to never lose sight of the main reason she was there - to win gold - being the team leader and flagbearer was an honour she will never forget.

The perfect touch came late on the night she won the shot put. Scottish officials allowed a large group of New Zealand fans to crowd into an official area in front of the dais for the medal ceremony.

"When the competition finished I was happy, but I wasn't the usual crazy Valerie who's running around and celebrating.

"But then going through the mixed-media zone, having people congratulating you, there was time, I think it was almost an hour, to reflect.

"I saw people from New Zealand, the chef de mission Rob Waddell, and I saw how happy they were. That was when the happiness really kicked in for me.

"I had special people who were there, you could see familiar faces in the crowd and it hits home.

"This is more than just the distance, more than blowing away the competition.

"This is something special to the team, and to the Kiwis. That's why, when we came out for the medal ceremony, it was fantastic to have so many people there sharing my happiness with me."

- Sunday Star Times

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