Sunday, 16 August 2009

Pressure-free, Vili delivers second World title

Valerie Vili of New Zealand celebrates winning the gold medal in the women's Shot Put Final  (Getty Images)

Valerie Vili of New Zealand celebrates winning the gold medal in the women's Shot Put Final (Getty Images)

Berlin, Germany - Wikipedia has got one thing wrong about Valerie Vili and she took the opportunity of the hectic mixed zone in the Berlin Olympic Stadium to iron out the mistake.

The unconventional online fount of knowledge insists that Vili’s father was Scottish so when she was asked how much she felt her second World gold had a vein of Scottish genes running through it she took a step back and dismissed the error, pointing out in no uncertain terms that her father was English. And when a 190cm tall shot putter weighing in at 110 kilos sets the record straight it is very straight indeed.

Vili, 24, then paid homage to her coach of 11 years, Kirsten Hellier, who took her on as a 14-year-old and foresaw that she would be a champion. It was Hellier and her husband, Patrick, who took Vili in when her mother died at the age of 15. Her father, Sydney Adams, who was born in Bristol, England, died a year before Vili’s World championship win in Osaka.

“She just understands me,” explained Vili, talking about Hillier. “We get on really well and I respect her. She is everything to me.” And then she turned away for a radio interview with Radio Sport in her home country. 

Hillier was an athlete in her own right – she took Commonwealth Javelin Throw silver in 1994 – and Vili describes their relationship graphically. “She’s the pilot and I’m the plane,” said the woman nicknamed “The Invincible”.

Next up, supporting her husband on Tuesday

For the South Aucklander her Berlin World championships are not yet finished. Married to French discus thrower, Bertrand Vili, she will be back in the stadium on Tuesday to watch him compete. And then she goes back to training. 

She has now won everything the sport has to offer, how much longer did she think she would keep going before she retired? “As long as I enjoy it, I shall keep competing,” she answered, dismissing any thoughts of retirement. “I have fun doing what I do and as long as that continues I won’t be hanging my spikes up just yet,” she said.

Vili then paid tribute to the German crowd in the stadium. Though there had been a lot of support for the silver medallist, Nadine Kleinert, she did not feel in any way rejected. “Absolutely not. The German crowds love the throws, they are very knowledgeable and I certainly did not feel pressure from the public at all. I did feel it from Nadine, however.”

Kleinert had taken the lead in the first round, but Vili finally responded in the third effort of 20.25m to take over the reins of the competition. Until that time she had looked introspective and tense. “It was a slow start for me,” she said. “I realised then I had a lot of pressure on my hands. But then I really started in the third round. And I have to say I was really happy Nadine pushed me the way she did because it made it a good competition.

“I always knew when I came here that the public would root for a German, that’s only natural. But I knew there was a lot of support for me too. And I respond to that. After all, I train to perform well in competition and I love competition.”

Hellier once described her ambition for Vili as aiming for her charge to go over 20m with every throw of a competition. Well, considering the New Zealander waited for three rounds in Berlin before she did that, there is clearly plenty of scope for improvement. You get the feeling there are a few more gold medals to go around Vili’s neck before retirement looms.

Michael Butcher for the IAAF