SHE DIDN’T MAKE the Rio Games; placed 6th in the Olympic Trials as a Stanford junior. But Valarie Allman, now 26, has come a long way since. All the way to the Tokyo gold on the strength of a brilliant 226-4 (68.98) opening throw that rates as the No. 6 U.S. performance ever.
What might have been a first effort to find her rhythm was instead for the former So You Think You Can Dance troupe member the longest opener in an Olympic final since Martina Hellmann’s 235-8 (71.84) in ’88, the comp in which the East German set the still-standing OR.
While the premeet formchart showed due deference for Croatia’s Sandra Perković, winner of the last two golds, and world champion Yaimé Pérez of Cuba, neither of the early-30s veterans — with 16 career World Rankings appearances between them — could come within 10-feet of the American.
Instead it was Kristin Pudenz — a 28-year-old German throwing in her first Games — who came up for silver with 219-4 (66.86). Pérez claimed bronze at 215-7 (65.72) and Perković ended up 4th with 213-3 (65.01).
Behind Allman’s big opener, no other thrower surpassed 210-feet (64.00) as drenching rain interrupted the proceedings before the midpoint for the better part of an hour.
But before the final even began, qualifying had exacted its toll. Allman led the round nearly a meter and a half ahead of India’s Kamalpreet Kaur (217-11/66.42) and Perković (209-2/63.75). Big names eliminated were Rio silver medalist Mélina Robert-Michon, ’15 world champion and ’19 silver medalist Denia Caballero and NCAA titlist/world list leader Jorinde van Klinken.
When the final commenced at 8:00 pm, rain had fallen earlier and the prospect of more wet stuff hung in the air. No one knew then how profoundly meterological conditions — along with Allman’s golden opener — would front-load all the throwing of consequence.
Throwing fourth in the order, 7-time world No. 1 Perković looked much like herself, spinning to what appeared to be a solid release but the distance, 205-2 (62.53), was well short of vintage stuff for the Croatian. Four throws later, Pudenz, speedy across the ring, increased the lead to 206-11 (63.07).
Pérez, two throwers later and sporting a red headband with white polka dots, lifted the target to a more Olympian level. The heave was her 215-7 that would hold up for silver.
The comp topper came next as it was Allman’s turn at eleventh in the order. She wiped moisture from the soles of her shoes with a towel and stepped into the ring.
From the back she sailed across the circle and planted her right foot with her right arm and the disc wound tight behind her. A split-second later her lightning left touched down and she fired the platter. Two full pirouettes on her left leg later, her right foot found terra firma and Allman smiled as she watched the discus soar. The toss landed near the 70-meter (229-8) stripe and its magnitude was clear as soon as the white flag flew, well before the measurement.
The smile broadened to an elated beam and Allman ran to the edge of the stands to hear feedback from coach Jeb Sion.
Portugal’s Liliana Cá, second in the order, lofted one out to the right side of the sector in round 2. Measured at 206-2 (62.85), it pushed Perković down to 4th. Trying to respond, the reigning champ sent one into the cage. Four throws further on Pudenz struck again: 214-4 (65.34). Now Perković stood in 5th.
Then the raindrops came. Allman slipped in the wet ring and sent her discus into the cage. Soon the rain was dumping and no one could grip the ground. After Cá virtually hydroplaned upon initiating her round 3 spin, a weather delay was called and it lasted some 55 minutes.
Once the ring was dried, do-overs were granted to those who had skated out, including Allman for her round 2 effort.
Momentum was broken, nonetheless, although not completely. In round 3 Perković got past the 65-meter (213-3) stripe — by a centimeter. She would throw no farther and finished out of the medals at a major for the first time since she placed 9th at the ’09 Worlds (she didn’t throw in the ’11 WC).
Pérez added a 213-11 (65.20) backup in round 4 before Allman went 213-11 (64.76) as the next thrower, but only the fifth frame saw 66-meter (216-6) throws. First Pudenz lifted her PR by 1-10 (55cm) to 219-4 (66.86) to move past Pérez. After letting it fly, she clasped her hands in delight.
Pérez’s answer flew far left but not long and she walked out the front before Allman fired off the third-longest toss of the contest, 219-1 (66.78). In round 6 just two marks were recorded, the rest fouls.
Allman walked out the front after a somewhat mechanical last effort and jogged off, all smiles, to hug her coach in the stands.
She became the third American woman to mine discus gold, after Lillian Copeland in 1932 and Stephanie Brown Trafton in 2008. Teensy trivia note: all three went to California colleges: Copeland USC, SBT Cal Poly/SLO and Allman Stanford.
“My first throw felt like a very good opener,” Allman understated. “My coach and I always talk about being able to set the tone right at the start of the competition, and to come out with a solid mark like that felt good.
“It felt like I’d found my footing, but you can never predict a rain delay. It’s hard to get back in the groove [after] that. I wish I could have stayed in that groove and built on that mark, but to win the gold medal feels absolutely amazing. I couldn’t be happier.”
Allman was asked about that earlier passion one imagines one sees in her tight whirl across the ring and pirouetting finish. Does she think discus throwing is a dance?
“I think so,” she replied. “It’s a second-and-a-half dance that you do hundreds of times, and it’s really repetitive, but I do think it’s a dance.
“It’s poetry, it’s balance, it’s grace, it’s power, and it’s about figuring how to do it as efficiently as you can.”
WOMEN’S DISCUS RESULTS
(August 02) (temperature 82F/28C; humidity 86–83%; rain)
1. Valarie Allman (US) 226-4 (68.98) (x, 6 A)
(226-4, f, f, 212-5, 219-1, f) (68.98, f, f, 64.76, 66.78, f);
2. Kristin Pudenz (Ger) 219-4 (66.86)
(206-11, 214-4, 211-1, f, 219-4, f) (63.07, 65.34, 64.35, f, 66.86, f);
3. Yaimé Pérez (Cub) 215-7 (65.72)
(215-7, 203-11, 207-4, 213-11, f, f) (65.72, 62.16, 63.20, 65.20, f, f);
4. Sandra Perković (Cro) 213-3 (65.01)
(205-2, f, 213-3, f, f, 207-6) (62.53, f, 65.01, f, f, 63.25);
5. Liliana Cá (Por) 209-9 (63.93)
(204-5, 209-9, f, f, f, p) (62.31, 63.93, f, f, f, p);
6. Kamalpreet Kaur (Ind) 209-0 (63.70)
(202-2, f, 209-0, f, 201-4, f) (61.62, f, 63.70, f, 61.37, f);
7. Shadae Lawrence (Jam) 203-10 (62.12)
(197-7, 203-10, 193-6, 195-1, 194-5, f) (60.22, 62.12, 58.98, 59.46, 59.26, f);
8. Marike Steinacker (Ger) 203-6 (62.02)
(f, 203-6, f, f, 197-2, 197-11)
(f, 62.02, f, f, 60.10, 60.32);
9. Claudine Vita (Ger) 202-9 (61.80)
(199-2, f, 202-9) (60.70, f, 61.80);
10. Yang Chen (Chn) 202-0 (61.57)
(202-0, 195-6, 201-6) (61.57, 59.59, 61.43);
11. Izabela da Silva (Bra) 198-1 (60.39)
(198-1, f, 195-5) (60.39, f, 59.56);
12. Daisy Osakue (Ita) 196-9 (59.97)
(196-9, f, f) (59.97, f, f).
|first 3 rounds|
QUALIFYING (July 31; auto-qualifier 210-0/64.00)
Qualifiers: Allman 217-11 (66.42), Kaur 210-0 (64.00), Perković 209-2 (63.75), Pudenz 209-1 (63.73), Osakue 208-10 (63.66) NR, Steinacker 207-5 (63.22), Pérez 207-3 (63.18), Cá 206-2 (62.85), Chen 205-9 (62.72), Vita 204-11 (62.46), Lawrence 204-3 (62.27), da Silva 201-10 (61.52);
Non-qualifiers: Marija Tolj (Cro) 201-8 (61.48), Jorinde van Klinken (Neth) 200-7 (61.15), Mélina Robert-Michon (Fra) 199-9 (60.88), Seema Antil (Ind) 198-8 (60.57), Bin Feng (Chn) 198-4 (60.45), Subenrat Insaeng (Tha) 194-4 (59.23), Hrisoúla Anagnostopoúlou (Gre) 194-2 (59.18), Xinyue Su (Chn) & Andressa de Morais (Bra) 193-3 (58.90), Dani Stevens (Aus) 192-9 (58.77), Denia Caballero (Cub) 190-2 (57.96), Fernanda Raquel Martins (Bra) 189-11 (57.90), Irina Rodrigues (Por) 187-1 (57.03), Dragana Tomašević (Ser) 186-10 (56.95), Rachel Dincoff (US) 184-5 (56.22), Kelsey Card (US) 183-10 (56.04), Karen Gallardo (Chl) 183-1 (55.81), Alexandra Emilianov (Mol) 179-0 (54.57), Nataliya Semenova (Ukr) 178-1 (54.28). ◻︎