History could beckon in the first field event final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as Valerie Adams attempts to become the first woman to land a hat-trick of Olympic titles in an individual athletics event.
The seven-time world champion – four outdoors and three indoors – and two-time Olympic champion was virtually invincible from 2008-2014, but double surgery at the end of 2014 put the brakes on her previous ascendency.
In four competitions last season, the New Zealander struggled to approach her best, but after a slow start to her 2016 campaign – Adams had to settle for bronze at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 – over the past month she has ominously, at least for her rivals, rediscovered her old rhythm.
Adams secured her first 20-metre effort for two years, and crucially defeated world champion Christina Schwanitz, at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco when she registered 20.05m.
In Adams’ final pre-Rio outing, she edged Schwanitz by five centimetres with a season’s best effort of 20.19m in the Hungarian town of Szekesfehervar to extend her personal head-to-head record against the German to 30-2.
Schwanitz herself has been plagued by shoulder issues since winning her maiden world outdoor title in Beijing last year. The 30-year-old missed the indoor season but she too is enjoying a return to form in recent weeks, winning the European title in Amsterdam with a season’s best of 20.17m.
However, Adams looms as a menacing threat to the German’s gold medal ambitions.
Look out too for Olympic bronze medallist and world silver medallist Gong Lijiao. The Chinese athlete has proved a consistent championship performer and her world-leading throw of 20.43m in Halle, Germany, in May also marks her out as a serious contender.
The 27-year-old achieved a distance of 19.73m in her most recent competition in Germany and is clearly more than capable of a podium finish.
Carter looking to build on Portland momentum
Michelle Carter will attempt to become the first US woman to win an Olympic shot put medal in 56 years when she takes to the shot circle on 12 August.
The 30-year-old came of age in Portland back in March, getting the world indoor title courtesy of a North American record of 20.21m.
She has not quite replicated that form outdoors – her season’s best of 19.59m was set when winning the US title – but Carter, who is seeking to emulate her father Michael as an Olympic medallist (he won the shot put silver at the 1984 Olympics), is a genuine contender.
Carter heads a three-strong US team backed up by rising talent Raven Saunders and Felisha Johnson.
The 20-year-old Saunders powered the shot out to a lifetime best of 19.33m when winning the NCAA title in June. Meanwhile Johnson, who finished third at the US Olympic Trials, set her PB of 19.26m in June and is another with top-eight potential.
Anita Marton is in the best form of her career as evidenced by a Hungarian record of 19.49m in her final pre-Rio outing in Szekesfehervar. The European and world indoor silver medallist also has developed the ability to consistently raise her game at major championships and for this reason alone she should prove a factor.
The second-string Chinese athlete Gao Yang, who finished fifth at last year’s World Championships, is another to be respected with a best of 19.20m.
Other names to look out for, almost more likely as finalists rather than medal contenders, include the vastly experienced 2015 Pan American Games champion Cleopatra Borel of Trinidad and Tobago, who will be making her fourth Olympic appearance, European bronze medallist Emel Dereli of Turkey and the Belarusian duo of Aliona Dubitskaya and Yulia Leantsiuk, the sixth and seventh-place finishers from the World Championships last year.
Steve Landells for the IAAF