The New Zealand Herald


- — Andrew Alderson

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 36-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 tells only 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. “Our 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 arising for the governor-general.

Silver at the 2002 Manchester Commonweal­th Games thrust her into the public eye as a 17-year-old. That collective gaze has remained unflinchin­g, even as this talismanic figure contemplat­es a likely final curtain at the Tokyo Olympics on August 1.

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, marriage 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 Adams’ 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 the crowds 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.

Watch this space again at Tokyo. “Pregnancy does crazy things to your muscles and ligaments, and we have to factor my age in, too. But you don’t want to regret anything once you retire. To qualify for a fifth Olympics is a triumph for myself and female athletes around the world.”

Adams will join just Barbara Kendall among New Zealand women to reach that many editions. S

She has the added incentive — alongside kayaker Lisa Carrington and rower Hamish Bond — of becoming the first of her compatriot­s to conquer at three separate Games.

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 is keeping her word.

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