MELBOURNE, June 23 (Reuters) - If motherhood and two Caesarean births were not enough to stop shot put icon Valerie Adams qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, the COVID-19 pandemic never really stood a chance.
At 36, Adams will become New Zealand’s first woman to compete at five Olympics in track and field, hoping to claim a record-extending fourth medal in her event and prove that being a mother is no barrier to success on sport’s biggest stage.
Over two decades of heaving heavy metal balls, Adams has been more a force of nature than a mere athlete, racking up records, world championships and a damehood in New Zealand as one of the country’s greatest track and field competitors.
However, just making it to Tokyo ranks highly among her long list of achievements which include back-to-back golds at Beijing (2008) and London (2012), and silver at Rio.
“I’m living my dream of being a mum and also being an athlete and just about to compete at my fifth Olympic Games, which is pretty awesome,” Adams told Reuters in an interview.
“But this just goes to show that female athletes who want to have a child or who dream of being a mum, it is possible.
“It is possible on every level to take a year out to have a child and recover and come back -- if that’s what you want to do.”
Adams gave birth to her first child, a daughter, a year after Rio, and six months later was beaming on the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games podium with a silver medal draped around her neck.
Coming back after the birth of her son in 2019 pushed Adams’ high pain threshold to the limit.
“They cut through your abdominals, like seven layers to get your baby out,” she said.
“They’re going through scar tissue again and cutting it again but I knew what the recovery time was going to be.
“My want and my will to recover and come back and train to be able to qualify outweighed the pain and the suffering.
“No regrets. I would do it all over again if I needed to.”
When it came time to deliver in competition, the ease of Adams’ qualification belied the hard graft in the background.
In January 2020, at her first event in 20 months, she threw above the Olympic entry standard of 18.50 metres in Hastings, New Zealand.
But COVID-19 then threw her a curve-ball, postponing Tokyo by a year. It took Adams two weeks to process the disappointment before resolving to forge ahead.
Any doubts about her competitiveness were torpedoed in January when she threw 19.65m at a meeting in Auckland, her best since her silver medal-winning 20.42m at Rio.
Only China’s world champion Gong Lijiao (20.31m) and Portugal’s Auriol Dongmo (19.75m) are ahead of her on the year-best list.
Adams’ medal hopes have been further boosted by the absence of American Olympic champion Michelle Carter, who was ruled out of Tokyo trials due to health issues.
Adams said her power never deserted her but regaining the speed that turns strength into length remains a work in progress.
With no one able to challenge her in New Zealand, Adams will throw next Tuesday at a meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, and is excited about what stiffer competition might do for her distance.
All told, her road to the Games will mean four months away from her children but her younger sister Lisa Adams will join her in Japan to compete in the Paralympics shot put in the F37 category.
Under Adams’ coaching, world record holder Lisa, also a mum, claimed the world para athletics title in 2019.
It would be brave to bet against another Adams family triumph in Tokyo.
“I don’t go to the Olympics just to hang out and throw whatever,” said Dame Adams.
“Yes, the goal is to win a gold medal, to get a medal, to perform the best I can for New Zealand.” (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)