Dani Samuels of Australia looks thrilled to win the women's Discus at the 12th World Championships in Athletics in the Berlin Olympic Stadium (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 22 August 2009 – Berlin, Germany

Samuels writes Australian sporting history in Berlin

Berlin, GermanyAustralians will have woken up this morning to a major news shock: Dani Samuels, they will have heard on radio and TV news, is the new World champion in the Discus Throw.

Probably a large number of Australians will at first have thought they misunderstood something. But it is true: Samuels took the title with a 65.44m throw to succeed German legend Franka Dietzsch and producing what will remain one of the major surprises of the 12th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin.

But this is much more than a big surprise for Australia. At the age of 21 Samuels wrote sports history for her country. Never has any Australian thrower – man or woman – won a global gold medal at either the World championships or the Olympic Games. The closest was at the 1993 World championships in Stuttgart when Daniela Costian took silver in the same event.  Now that the championships returned to Germany for the second time Australia went one podium step higher.

“Oh, yes I expect this will be a big story in Australia once they wake up,” said Samuels speaking in the mixed zone after her win. “It was about 5 am in Australia, but I know that my family were definitely all up and watching my competition on TV.”

Her boyfriend however missed the opportunity to see the final. “He was in a plane flying to Abu Dhabi so I am not sure if he will already knew, but he may have tried to get some information.” Samuels belongs to Australia’s Target 2012 team. Gold at the next Olympics was the distant goal, but now she was three years early.

World may have been surprised, but coach wasn’t

“This year Dani was consistently throwing 62 metres in all sorts of weather,” said her coach Dennis Knowles. “And I knew that she would be capable of throwing 65 metres if all fits together. The question was if this could happen at the right moment – here at the championships and not a week later somewhere else.”

“In the build-up to Berlin she had thrown against a number of very strong competitors and had always done well,” her coach continued. “Physically Dani has become stronger and additionally she has learnt a lot when she was competing in Osaka at the World Championships in 2007, where she missed the final, and at the Olympics where she finished ninth.”

The coach further explained: “Already for four years now she was working towards the London Olympics. So this one in Berlin came a bit out of the blue. But I knew that she would have a chance to medal, though I did not think about the gold. When there were throws of 64 and 65 metres by two others I thought that is was going to be difficult to surpass them, but the bronze medal was always in reach.” Then Samuels improved her personal best to 64.76m in round four and took third for the moment.

“Throwing 64 metres was fantastic for me, because then I was relaxed and that helped further improving in the next round,” explained the Sydney-based winner, who had entered the competition with a personal record of 62.95m from 2008. Prior to Berlin, she has reached 62.89m this year. “I knew that maybe there would be a chance to even win gold here. But everything would have to really fit perfectly together – and it did.”

Early start, success as a junior

Samuels began with athletics at the age of eight, but even as a five-year-old she had come along to the track. And it was already when she was a young schoolgirl that she was guided by Knowles. “He is something like an adopted father to me. Without him I would not be here today, I owe my success to him,” the thrower said. It had always been the throws in which she wanted to compete, but she was also a very good basketball player. Her family is very much involved in basketball.

In 2003 Samuels was selected for the World Youth Championships, competing in the Shot Put. She did not make it to the final, but the selection alone was a stepping stone in her career. “When she was selected for the youth team she realised that she can really achieve something in this sport,” says Knowles, who describes Samuels as an “excellent basketball player, but she is a bit too small”. “I haven’t played for a while now because the risk of picking up an injury was too big,” Samuels said.

In 2006 Samuels won the gold at the World Junior Championships and an additional bronze at the Commonwealth Games. In the future her coach expects her to do well at a number of global championships.

“Since she is only 21 she could see four Olympics and may be six or seven World Championships,” said Knowles.

So while the defending champion Franka Dietzsch did not make it to the final at her very last major championships, the event may well have produced a champion who could follow in the footsteps of the great German.

“Franka has always been a role model for me. When I grew up she was so strong. In Osaka I was very happy for her to win and I felt sad when I heard that she did not make it to Beijing. I am sorry she did not make it to the final here,” said Samuels, whose big goal remains 2012.

“I would really like to win there and my goal will be to improve to 70 metres by then.”

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF