Valerie Adams: The 1.90m 'shy girl'

Valerie Adams (nee Vili) celebrates setting a national record during the Senior Women's Shot Put at the 2006 New Zealand track and field championships
Valerie Adams (nee Vili) celebrates setting a national record during the Senior Women's Shot Put at the 2006 New Zealand track and field championships

Ever wondered what your favourite sportspeople were like before they were super-mega-famous? Every week Tokyo 2020 will give you a glimpse into what life was like for some of the world’s greatest athletes before they were stars.

The deets

  • Name: Valerie Adams
  • Age: 36
  • Nationality: New Zealand
  • Profession: Shot putter
Valerie Adams at age 21

In Auckland with Shot Put legend Valerie Adams when she was 21.

What has she achieved?

Oh, not much… she’s only an eight-time world champion (four outdoor, four indoor) and a two-time Olympic gold medallist with personal bests of 21.24m (outdoors) and 20.54 (indoors). She also holds the World Championship record and World Indoor Championship record, not to mention a myriad of continental and national records and trophies.

Born in New Zealand to a Tongan mother and an English father, Valerie Adams only took up athletics when she was just 14. Already 1.93m tall by the age of 13, Adams showed a natural strength that soon saw her excelling in her sport, winning the regional school shot put championships before finishing second in the World Youth Championships at age 15 and going on to win the World Junior Championships.

In her first Olympics at Athens 2004, the 19-year-old finished in ninth place, despite having undergone surgery on her appendix only weeks earlier.

Glory was finally achieved in Beijing, where she won the gold medal - the first athlete from New Zealand to top the podium in athletics. Over the next four years she won everything possible, culminating in a second Olympic title at London 2012. Her relentless dominance continued until 2015, when surgery began to hamper her performances.

Even though she was beaten to gold by Michelle Carter at Rio 2016, she still came home with a silver medal.

Surprising fact

Adams has 17 brothers and sisters, some of whom also became elite athletes. Her youngest brother Steven Adams plays basketball in the NBA, while two other brothers were professional basketball players in New Zealand. Her sister Lisa, who has cerebral palsy, is aiming to become a Paralympic shot putter and discus thrower.

It’s difficult to imagine now, but Valerie was a very shy young girl and was mocked at school because of her height. But things have definitely changed for Adams once she got into athletics.

What’s she up to now?

Adams, who continues to compete, got married in 2016 and gave birth to her first child, Kimoana Josephine, in October 2017 followed by a second child, Kepaleli, in March 2019. In early 2020, Adams achieved the 18.65m qualifying standard for Tokyo 2020 to book her ticket to what will be her last Olympics.

By the time the Games begin, Adams will be 37.

You might have thought the postponement of the Olympics may have caused her to change her plans about competing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to an interview with her coach Scott Goodman earlier this year.

“It’s a good opportunity for Valerie. There is lots of stability at the moment with her family situation, kids, care and support and, importantly, she’s injury-free. That’s the biggest thing, and she’s enjoying throwing”, he said.