Three-time world champion and defending Olympic champion shot putter Valerie Adams of New Zealand is 6-foot-4, 273 pounds, but brings a rare athleticism to the ring. Until 2011, Adams had thrown farther than any women in the world in more than a decade (mostly since the steroid-addled 1970s and ’80s), but now Adams faces a challenge from Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus, whose best throw in 2012 is only four inches short of Adams’s best.
They are two of the best shot putters of the modern, random-drug-testing era. Adams, who moves through the ring like a great offensive lineman, has won three world titles and the Beijing Olympic gold. Ostapchuk was the bronze medalist in Beijing and has twice finished second to Adams at worlds.
Team USA’s Jill Camerena-Williams will also fight to match the bronze medal she won at last year’s world championships. The last — and only — U.S. medal in the women’s shot put was in 1960, when Earlene Brown took the bronze in Rome. It had been even longer between discus gold medals before Stefanie Brown Trafton won her gold in Beijing; the last winner was Lillian Copeland in 1932. The U.S. has never won a medal in the triple jump and won’t win one in London, either.
For the men, Poland’s Tomasz Majewski emerged as the surprise gold medalist in Beijing with a throw of 21.51m. Once an event dominated by the Americans, recent years have seen the likes of Canada’s Dylan Armstrong, Germany’s David Storl and Belarus’ Andrei Mikhnevich push their to the top more frequently.
The U.S. contingent will still be strong with Reese Hoffa, Christian Cantwell, and Ryan Whiting, but will be hard-pressed to be thinking medal sweep with the international talent opposing them and memories of last year’s shutout at the Worlds as a reminder.
Whiting, 25, is a genuine medal threat, in the long of U.S shot succession that included John Godina and Adam Nelson, and current Olympians Hoffa and Cantwell. Whiting’s story is also poignant, as three years ago he lost his mother, Jill, then just 50, to a sudden blot clot after routine knee surgery.
The men’s final is Aug. 3 and the women’s is Aug. 6.