Discus winner Valarie Allman at the Tokyo Olympic Games (© AFP / Getty Images)
All it took was one throw.
Valarie Allman’s opening effort of 68.98m was enough to crown the 26-year-old US thrower as the women’s discus champion at the Tokyo Olympics.
What’s more, Allman’s victory on Monday night gave the United States its first athletics gold medal of the Games.
Not a bad night’s work for a dancer-turned-discus thrower who now can call herself Olympic champion.
“It sounds really amazing,” Allman said. “I’m not going to lie.”
She’s the third US woman to win gold in the discus and first since Stephanie Brown Trafton in 2008.
“I am so honoured that this has been a first gold medal (for the US) in Tokyo,” Allman said. "I couldn't be any happier or more proud. I’m still waiting for my feet to touch the ground.”
Kristin Pudenz of Germany took the silver medal in the rain-affected competition with a personal best throw of 66.86m, while world champion Yaime Perez of Cuba earned bronze with 65.72m.
Pudenz said she never anticipated winning a medal.
“Definitely not,” she said. “I was hoping for top eight, maybe a personal best and then see what happens, but a silver medal – I never expected that."
Croatia’s two-time defending champion Sandra Perkovic, who had been aiming to become the first woman to win three Olympic golds in an individual athletics event, finished fourth with 65.01m.
The final was suspended for 57 minutes due to heavy rain. Just before that, Liliana Ca of Portugal slipped and tumbled on the slippery throwing circle, with her discus falling to the ground. When the final resumed, Ca and two others were allowed to retake their second-round throws.
Allman, who trained as a dancer as a young girl but switched to the discus as a 15-year-old high schooler, came to Tokyo as a leading medal contender after winning the event at the US Olympic Trials in June with a throw of 70.01m. She was the only finalist to have thrown beyond the 70-metre mark this year.
On Monday, Allman built off that confidence and sent a message to her rivals with her very first throw.
“The throw felt like a really good opener,” she said. “My coach and I, we always talk about being able to set the tone right at the start of the competition. To come out with a solid mark like that felt really good.”
Allman failed on her second and third attempts but recorded 66.87m on her fifth throw, which became the third-longest throw of the evening.
“No one can ever predict a rain delay and it’s hard to get back in the groove,” Allman said. “I wish I could have stayed in that groove and try to build on that mark but to win a gold medal, it feels absolutely amazing.”
Pudenz improved from third to second in the standings with her 66.86m effort in round five but no one ever got close to Allman’s top mark.
Perkovic said she lost focus in the rain delay and ruined her chances by sailing what she thought would be a 68m-69m throw into the cage.
“After that I completely collapsed,” she said. “It was all my mistakes.”
As a young girl, Allman spent a year traveling across the US as part of a dance programme put on by choreographers for the television show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’.
Then, as a high school student in Longmont, Colorado, she was invited to an annual spaghetti dinner by the school’s throwing athletes. But, in order to attend, she had to try throwing. She agreed and found out that she had a talent for discus. From there, her athletics career took off.
Allman finds a symmetry between dance and discus throwing.
“There’s a balletic movement to it,” she said. “It’s a combination of grace, strength, balance, having an awareness of your body and being able to move it with force. That’s mainly what discus throwing is.”
Steve Wilson for World Athletics
|WOMEN'S DISCUS MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Valerie Allman 🇺🇸 USA||68.98m|
|🥈||Kristin Pudenz 🇩🇪 GER||66.86m PB|
|🥉||Yaime Perez 🇨🇺 CUB||65.72m|