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Shotput champ Adams sees Rio light at end of injury tunnel

Valerie Adams of New Zealand competes in the women's shot put during the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships in Portland, Oregon March 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake - RTSB9N0
Valerie Adams of New Zealand competes in the women's shot put during the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships in Portland, Oregon March 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake - RTSB9N0

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Valerie Adams' winning throw at the recent Diamond League meet in Monaco was well short of her career best but breaking the 20 metres mark in competition for the first time in nearly two years showed she is on track to defend her Olympic shotput title in Rio.

"The distance was definitely more important than the win," the 31-year-old New Zealander said of her 20.05m throw. "The win is just a bonus, it shows I still have the competitive fire in me."

Adams will attempt to become the first woman to win three successive Olympic shotput titles at the Rio de Janeiro Games but her path to that bid for glory has been far from smooth.

After winning gold in Beijing, Adams' hopes of retaining her title in London suffered a setback when she discovered she had not even been entered due to an administrative error by NZOC officials.

Her preparations upset, Adams was beaten to the gold by Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus.

A week later, however, Adams received a telephone call informing her that Ostapchuk had tested positive for a banned steroid and was to be stripped of the title.

Her reaction was mixed. Joy at becoming champion. Anger at being robbed of her Olympic moment.

The NZOC organised a special ceremony a few weeks after the Games to award her the gold medal and while overwhelmed by the support from her compatriots she later conceded the whole London experience was "bittersweet".

UNDER THE KNIFE

Adams went on to win a fourth successive world championships title at Moscow in 2013 but the physical toll of her sport began to catch up with her.

Surgery was needed to fix her left ankle and right knee at the end of the season, and while she recovered to win a third world indoors title and third Commonwealth gold in 2014, nagging pain in her left shoulder and right elbow forced her to go back under the knife.

She made a slow return to competition, not appearing again until a Diamond League meeting in Paris in July 2015.

With new rivals such as Germany's Christina Schwanitz, China's Gong Lijao and American Michelle Carter proving they had caught up with the New Zealander, Adams finished fifth with a best throw of 18.79m, ending an unbeaten streak of 56 competitive events that had stretched back to August 2010.

Adams abandoned the remainder of the season, choosing not to defend her world title in Beijing, and instead underwent more surgery to her right knee last August to give her a full year to prepare for Rio.

Her return this year has been low key, though she has four of the 10 best throws outdoors in 2016.

Gong and Schwanitz have both thrown further than Adams, and while the trio look the athletes to beat in Rio she knows nothing really matters until Aug. 12 when the final is underway at the Olympic Stadium.

"Nobody targets a particular number, it's all about what happens on the day," she told Fairfax Media earlier this year.

"It's about whoever brings their game on game day - that person is going to win the gold medal."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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