Michelle Carter produced a jaw-dropping moment of inspiration in the sixth round to shatter Valerie Adams’ dreams of securing what would have been a record third Olympic gold and snatched a dramatic victory few anticipated.
Leading the competition from the opening round, Adams unleashed a season’s best of 20.42m in round two and appeared to be cruising to a comfortable win until somehow from somewhere Carter summoned up a Herculean final throw of 20.63m to add 39cm to her US record and destroy the New Zealander’s hopes of becoming the first woman in history to win three straight Olympic individual athletics titles.
Adams with her typical intense ‘game face’ ratcheted up several degrees responded with a 20.39m effort in round six but even she had to let out a wry grin at the sheer audacity of Carter’s smash-and-grab raid, which earned her family bragging rights having gone one better than her father, Michael, who won the shot put silver at the 1984 Olympics.
Somewhat forgotten in the dramatic denouement to the first field event final of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was Anita Marton’s impressive Hungarian record of 19.87m, which earned her a highly creditable bronze.
Reigning world champion Christina Schwanitz of Germany was beaten out of sight, trailing home sixth with a modest 19.03m, more than a metre down on her season’s best.
The event was teed up as a likely battle between Adams and Schwanitz, although Carter, who had set a US indoor record of 20.21m when winning at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 in March, was certainly in the medal frame.
Adams, certainly the most dominant shot putter of her generation, had shown rare vulnerability over the past couple of seasons, her previous superiority blunted by triple surgery, although a welcome return to 20-metre form in recent weeks had lifted her confidence.
Showing all the fierce competitive qualities to which we have become accustomed, it was Adams, who established early control of the competition with a decent opening effort of 19.79m.
In an otherwise largely uneventful first round, Carter was second with 19.12m followed by Schwanitz, who reached what was eventually to be her best of 19.03m.
Adams over 20 metres
In round two, Carter responded to exceed Adams’ first round distance by three centimetres only for the Kiwi to regain the initiative with a season’s best 20.42m.
The throw – Adams’ longest since September 2014 – came within one centimetre of Lijiao Gong’s world-leading mark.
In the battle for the minor medals, China’s Gong moved into third with a best of 19.39m as Schwanitz – who was given a red flag in round two – was relegated to fourth.
The major mover of round three was Marton, who started to come into the medal picture by nudging Gong to fourth with a 19.39m effort.
In round four, there was no overall change to the top five.
Adams was red-flagged, although Carter marginally improved on her best with 19.87m. A deflated-looking Schwanitz committed a third successive foul to remain fifth.
The penultimate round proved an anti-climax with only Carter catching the eye as she maintained her consistent series with a best of 19.84m.
However, the real excitement was to follow.
The US 20-year-old Raven Saunders was the first to strike in round six with a PB of 19.35m advancing her to fifth overall. Marton then produced her moment of inspiration to hurl the shot 19.87m and improve her national record by 38cm to match Carter’s best at that point.
Yet the real drama was to follow as Carter was to rip the heart out of Adams with her final throw, and with only Adams still to throw, which was to give Carter the most dramatic of victories and become the first US athlete in this event to take the gold medal.
Steve Landells for the IAAF