Valerie Vili - June/July 2008, New Zealand Fitness
Valerie Vili has blasted herself to stardom as
shot-put world champion both indoors and
outdoors and is one of New Zealand’s top gold
medal contenders for Beijing 2008. SARAH
WEEKS finds out how this 23-year-old
Olympic hopeful is preparing for the
biggest competition of her life.
alerie, or Val as her friends know her, “That was one of my goals to throw 20 metres
came to prominence when winning as much as I can this year in my competitions.
the World Youth Championships in Consistency is the key to success.”
2001 at the age of 17, with a throw of Valerie also won her eighth consecutive national
16.87m. She followed this up in 2002 by becoming title at the track and field National Championships
World Junior champion, throwing 17.73m and had earlier in March. The world outdoor and indoor
her first taste of senior success, winning a silver champion was pleased with her winning series
medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, with a of six throws. Her third effort of 20m was only
17.45m throw. 0.54m less than her personal best and national
Still just at 18 years old, Valerie finished fifth at record set when she threw her 20.54m World
the World Championships in 2003 and at her first Championship title in Osaka last year.
Olympics in 2004, she finished eight, whilst still With such a successful career to date, Valerie
recovering from an appendectomy she had just is well set to take on the Beijing 2008 in August.
weeks before the competition. In February she won the Australian
The following year, she earned a place in the championship in Brisbane with a performance
international elite, winning a bronze medal at of 19.54m and earlier in the month, she won
the 2005 World Championships with a personal Black Singlet Invitational track and field event in
best throw of 19.87m as well as going on to finish Auckland. Valerie opened the competition with
second at the World Athletics Final. At the 2006 a 19.55m throw and in round two sent the ball of
Commonwealth Games, the 1.96m-tall athlete steel out to 20.13m, her best performance this
won the gold medal, breaking the 20-year-old season and the leading distance in the world this
Commonwealth Games record of 19m with a year. In the final round she eclipsed the 20-metre
throw of 19.66m. barrier with 20.09m.
Last year, Valerie won gold at the 2007 And to top it off, she won the Halberg supreme
World Championship held in Osaka, with award and the Westpac Sportswoman of the Year
a throw of 19.45m, making her one of award on the same night.
the few female athletes ever to take the “It was a great competition, twice over 20
International Association of Athletics metres, a new season’s best and to top it off with
Federation (IAAF) world titles at the Halberg Awards, it was an absolutely fantastic
youth, junior and senior level. night! I feel really delighted and honoured.”
Valerie has had a stellar year Valerie’s coach of ten years, Kirsten Hellier,
so far, adding the world indoor also received coach of the year award and has
shot put title she won in been a major part of her success.
Valencia earlier in March, to “It was really nice to be acknowledged and
the outdoor title she won honoured in that way,” says javelin-thrower
in Osaka. The 23-year-old turned shot put coach Kirsten.
has been tossing the shot Valerie started playing shot put at school
put out to 20m almost when she was just 14 years old and says “I was
routinely this year the biggest kid at school so just got thrown
and is rapt with her into it really! ”
consistency. And a lot has changed since then, says Kirsten.
New Zealand Fitness, June / July 2008
18 New Zealand Fitness, June / July 2008
Westpac Sportswoman of the Year and
Halberg supreme winner Valerie Vili.
New Zealand Fitness, June / July 2008 19
“She’s had a fairly reflective journey in the sense that she’s lost both for minor back
her parents at a young age (her father in May last year and mother in problems. She
2000) and had to deal with things that most people don’t normally deal trains four to five
with at that age. We know each other very well and it’s been exciting to hours each day
see her grow and develop over the years. From an athlete’s perspective with her coach
she’s gone leaps and bounds – from a junior athlete to being one of the and says fitness is
best shot put athlete’s in the world.” vital to everything
“Athletics is an individual sport and can get quite lonesome,” says she does. On the
Valerie, “We travel the world together, I do my thing and she does hers subject of a healthy
– we are a great team.” diet, she believes
I ask Kirsten about Valerie’s training and if there’s anything she needs “you need to be
to improve on before Beijing. sensible and stick
“Any athlete, whether you’re trying to be the best in the world, or to moderation.”
you already are, has always got fine tuning to do. Because if you’re the It’s never easy
best in the world, you’ve got somebody who wants to knock you off the to get sponsorship
perch and if you’re nearly there, you want to be knocking someone else for sport in
off the perch. I don’t think you would ever get to a level where there was general and shot
nothing to work on, so its ongoing.” put isn’t a hugely
Consistency, technique, speed, agility, dynamics and strength is what popular sport in
Valerie and her coach will be focusing on for Beijing. New Zealand, says
“We really don’t talk about gold medals too much, we think more Valerie’s personal
about what it is we want to achieve distance-wise. Our main focus is to manager Nick
be consistent and peaking at the right time.” Cowan. Coach Kirsten Hellier
Kirsten’s personal motto is “success doesn’t give you happiness; “Anybody who’s with Valerie Vili.
happiness will give you success”. going to sponsor
With Beijing 2008 in August, Valerie is now knuckling down on her an athlete, needs to see some direct benefit to what they’re trying to
daily training regime. She’ll have a month’s training in New Zealand and sell or promote,” says Nick, “Because Valerie is such a special person
a training camp in Townsville, before returning home to travel with the with special qualities, it’s actually easier to sell. She’s a highly charged
New Zealand team to the Good Luck Beijing event in May, and then the competitor with a real empathetic story so she’s quite an attractive
same route again. proposition for a sponsor.”
Although Valerie is still on a high after her successful world-title wins “Shot-put is not a glamorous sport either,” says Valerie, “But with
in Osaka last year and Valencia this year, she is also feeling “pretty good” some luck, I’ve been able to sign up with Visa and Mitsubushi, which has
about her preparations for Beijing. been awesome in taking a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
“Things are going pretty well so far and everything’s on track. Training’s Valerie’s half-sister Viv and her niece will be traveling to Beijing
been pretty full on and I’m enjoying it.” to support her during the Olympics. Her husband of four years,
Her training schedule will become more intense in the months leading Bertrand Vili is a discus thrower from New Caledonia and hopes to
up to Beijing, but Valerie just smiles, saying: “No pain no gain”. be there too if he qualifies to compete at Beijing 2008, where he will
There’s a lot of pressure on Valerie to bring home an Olympic medal. I be representing France.
ask her the obvious question – does she think she’ll win the gold medal? “It’s great to have the support of my husband as he understands
“Do I think? Let’s not think. Do I feel? Let’s not feel. I want to the demands of being an athlete as well as I understand what he
perform well in Beijing and I know I’ve got a lot of hard work to do before needs to do.”
then. The rest of the competitors in shot-put will be fighting to be the Kiwi fans will also be there to support Valerie, along with the official
very best and I’ll be out there giving it my best shot too, 110 per cent. New Zealand Olympic team.
Obviously winning gold at the Olympics will be one of my goals!” “The support from New Zealanders and people helping me has been
She says her biggest competition at the Olympics will be the Europeans amazing!”
and the Chinese. Valerie is an inspiration to New Zealand’s young athletes and her
Valerie has had some amazing highs in her career so far, but advice to anyone considering getting into shot-put or athletics in general,
doesn’t view anything as a low point, even a shoulder injury she is to start by joining a local club.
sustained last year. “If you want to go further, find a good coach to help get your technique
“I try to look at everything as part of the experience, so don’t focus right – technique is so important in this sport.”
too much on the lows. It was just through overuse of the shoulders. It’s a After Beijing 2008, Valerie will have a year to prepare for defending
very common injury with weightlifters, as they have to lift a lot above the her world champion title at the 2009 World Championships, which will
head and obviously shot-put is the same, as you have to throw above your be held in Berlin in August 2009. In March 2010, Valerie will also
head. It was dealt to by an awesome surgeon and I was able to recover in defend her world title at the World Indoor Championships to be
time for the World Championships and come back stronger.” held in Doha, Qatar. Kiwis will be sure to keep their eyes peeled
Although this injury has gone now, Valerie still sees a physiotherapist for this New Zealand champion!
20 New Zealand Fitness, June / July 2008