Like Tom Walsh on the men’s side, Michelle Carter of the United States rolled the dice on a double peak in this Olympic year and the early returns were outstanding: a monumental 20.21m toss on her final throw in Portland for the win. Unfortunately, she injured her back on that attempt and has yet to regain top form. Her best toss so far outdoors was her 19.59m winner at the Trials. Her ability to medal will depend entirely on her health. When fit, she has the experience, toughness, and horsepower to compete with anyone.
Like Carter, Anita Marton of Hungary went all-in for Portland, blasting a sixth-round 19.33m to take the silver. Unlike Carter, she has been able to surpass that sterling performance outdoors, hitting 19.49m earlier this month. Twenty-seven years old and possessing fine rotational technique, she is in her prime and throwing great. Unfortunately, at this Olympics it may well take 20 meters to medal, and that is out of her range. She’ll make the final, but not the podium.
Another rotational thrower likely to make the final in Rio is Raven Saunders of the United States, the twenty-year-old enfant terrible of the women’s shot. She set the NCAA meet record of 19.33m in June, followed that up with 19.24m to take second at the Trials and, under the direction of veteran Coach John Smith, will likely surpass 19 meters again at the Olympics. A top five finish would be a huge accomplishment, and if we had to pick an early favorite for Tokyo, it would be her.
My money is on Felisha Johnson to make the final as well. She hit a PR of 19.26m in a low-pressure meet at North Central College in beautiful Naperville, Illinois, this summer (full disclosure: I live there) and backed that up with a 19.23m toss at the highest high-pressure meet of her life: the Trials. A similar distance won’t get her anywhere near the podium in Rio, but hopefully she will find a way to stay in the sport and put her Olympic experience to use in Tokyo.
China’s Gong Lijiao has thrown at least 20 meters in seven of the past eight years including a PR of 20.43m two months ago, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she will very likely throw 20 meters in Rio and contend for the gold. Her most recent effort was a 19.73m toss on July 29.
Since finishing 7th at the 2004 Olympics, New Zealand’s Valerie Adams has won two Olympic golds, four outdoor World Championship golds, and three Indoor World golds. She could finish 57th in Rio and still be considered by folks in the know (well, by me anyway) the best shot putter in history.
Not that it’s been easy for her lately. Multiple surgeries kept her from throwing 20 meters last year for the first time since 2005. This winter, she took third in Portland with a 19.25m toss and began the long, slow climb back to the top.
Unfortunately for the rest of the world, she appears to have made it. Twice this month, she surpassed 20 meters with a best of 20.19m on July 18th.
It turns out that Val’s beloved coach Jean-Pierre Egger will not be able to make the trip to Rio due to a bum knee, but my guess is that his absence will only make Val more determined to bring home the win. And a determined, healthy Valerie Adams will be hard to beat.
Germany’s Christina Schwanitz won gold at the Worlds last year in Val’s absence, but got a late start this spring due to knee surgery. Like Val, though, she seems to be rounding into form just at the right time winning the European title with a 20.17m chuck. I’ve heard that a German biomechanics study determined that the base in her power position is inefficiently wide, but her fixed-feet glide technique reliably produces 20-meter throws with no fear of fouling. That makes her a formidable opponent in any big meet.
Bronze: Carter. Having grown up in Texas with a former NFL defensive lineman (and Olympic medalist) for a father, she is not going to let a little thing like back pain slow her down.
Silver: Schwanitz. The fixed feet glide can be deadly in a high-pressure meet.
Gold: Adams. She’s been a dominant competitor and tireless ambassador for the sport for a dozen years. Plus, her brother (NBA star Steven Adams) can beat up your brother.