Valerie Adams described the 2014 season as her toughest ever today when she faced the press in Monaco ahead of the 2014 World Athletics Gala where she is one of three athletes short-listed for the women’s Athlete of the Year award.
Adams remained unbeaten throughout 14 indoor and outdoor contests, stretching her winning streak to 56 competitions over four years and adding a third world indoor title and a third Commonwealth Games gold to her ever extending list of honours.
But Adams maintained her perfect record despite having a knee operation a year ago, and spent much of the season battling injuries to her shoulder and elbow, problems which eventually forced her to withdraw from the IAAF Continental Cup and required two operations this October.
“This has definitely been my most challenging season as far as injuries goes,” said the 30-year-old New Zealander after a 31-hour, three-plane journey from her homeland.
“Somehow I’ve been able to hold it down this year and compete to my best on the day. To come out of the year untouched and unbeaten has been fantastic given all my problems.
“I hope to continue that as long as possible, and as long as I’m enjoying it. But for now I’m just glad the 2014 season is over.”
Adams described her progress back to fitness since the operations seven weeks ago as “so far so good”.
“The shoulder operation is something I’ve had done before [in 2007], but the elbow on the other hand, they had to move the ulnar nerve from the bottom to the top and made a tunnel to deal with that,” she said.
“I think I’m making progress now. At first I couldn’t do things like pick up my phone or a coffee cup, so every day at the moment is progress. But I’m being patient and doing everything I’m told to do to get better and stronger.
“What’s good is that my drive and motivation has come back even stronger, and that’s what’s keeping me going to make sure I’m ready to compete by August,” she added.
“I have time to get things right now and not make any mistakes. My ultimate goal is to go to Rio so what I do now is crucial.”
What Adams has been doing in the past few weeks is a lot of strength and conditioning work, including the relatively unfamiliar activity of running.
“I have spewed a couple of times recently,” she said. “I’m doing a lot of different things right now so that my body is ready when my coach, Jean-Pierre [Egger], comes over to New Zealand on 12 January to beat the crap out of me, so to speak.
“Until then I’ve got different people in New Zealand beating the crap out of me in their own way.”
While Adams described the injuries as “frustrating” she insists that after 15 years in the sport she’s still as keen as ever to “be the best I can be”, partly, she said, to prove that shot putters can be successful without using performance-enhancing drugs, and partly to set an example to young people from the kind of tough background that she grew up in.
“Throwing clean is just about being fair,” she said. “My event has been tainted by drug cheats. But I can’t control what anyone else does, I can only be a role model for young athletes coming up and show them that it’s possible to do it clean if you put the hard yards in, to do all the right things, and do the work. It is possible, you can be the best in the world, and do it clean.
“I want to leave a legacy and an example for young people. If I can inspire one young person in New Zealand to change their life for the better, then great. I am from an area of high poverty, so I know it can be done.”
The six-foot-four-inch Adams grew up with a large family of tall siblings, including three basketball-playing brothers, and was inspired to take up the shot put aged 15 while watching the Sydney 2000 Olympic opening ceremony in a hospice room where her mother lay dying.
“It was a tough moment for me, a poor 15-year-old, but in some ways it was my breakthrough because it gave me my life goal,” she said. “Everything since then has been about making my mum proud.”
Since then Adams has won everything there is to win in her event, but insists she still has ambitions both in the sport and in life.
“I’d like to have babies,” she said. “I’d love to be a mum, but not until I’m done with track and field.”
And that won’t be until after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, at the earliest.
As for breaking the long-standing world record, that’s not on her agenda, she said. Indeed, Adams is cautious about suggestions that the event should be given a “clean break”, such as by starting new world records from the year 2000, or changing the weight of the shot to mark a decisive difference from the distances thrown by athletes in the 1980s and 1990s.
However, she would favour more focused shot put contests to put the event into the public eye, such as the competition held at Zurich train station a few years ago, which allowed fans to get close to the action.
“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had in the sport,” she said, although World Championships and Olympic Games events should remain in their traditional home in the stadium, she says.
On the other hand, she is relaxed about the IAAF Council’s decision yesterday to hold some Rio Olympic finals during the morning sessions.
“I don’t care what time it starts, to be honest,” she said. “You just have to adjust. If the final is in the morning, I’ll be ready.
“But I would say, the local organisers must make sure the stadium is full. That’s the only possible downside. But in London it was amazing, the stadium was full the whole time and if it’s like that it will be fine.”
Matthew Brown for the IAAF