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Valarie Allman Displays Olympic-Medal Caliber Form With New American Record In Discus

By Karen Rosen | Aug. 07, 2020, 9:05 a.m. (ET)

Valarie Allman (left) poses for a photo after breaking the American discus record on Aug. 1, 2020.


Like most athletes, discus thrower Valarie Allman knew this was a year she’d just have to take whatever she could get.

She got an American record.

That’ll do.

“I think now it’s almost more meaningful,” Allman said, “that out of such a period that was really challenging something so great came from it.”

On the very day she had hoped to be throwing in the qualifying round of the women’s discus at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Allman competed Saturday in Rathdrum, Idaho  - population about 9,000  - at the Iron Wood Throws Center Invite.

While the setting was more diamond in the rough than Diamond League, it fit the bill for Allman to produce a throw of 70.15 meters/230 feet, 2 inches, the longest in the women’s event since 2018.

Only two active throwers have better marks: two-time Olympic gold medalist Sandra Perkovic of Croatia (71.41 in 2017) and Denia Caballero of Cuba (70.65 in 2015). Yaime Perez of Cuba won the 2019 worlds with a throw of 69.17.

Allman is striving to become the first Team USA Olympic medalist in discus since Stephanie Brown Trafton won the gold in 2008.

“This is a huge game-changer just for her viewing herself in terms of where she belongs,” said Allman’s coach, Zebulon Sion. “It’s very clear that she’s at a totally different level now.”

Only about 20 spectators, maybe 30, were on hand for the feat, including Allman’s mom, Lisa, and her puppy, Oly, a mini Australian shepherd.

“I’ve never felt so thankful just to be able to compete at any point in my career,” said Allman, who won the last two national titles and was seventh at the 2019 world championships in Doha. “Just the fact we were going to get to go and throw - that in itself was a huge win - let alone how well it went. I finally had an opportunity to see how our work was going to materialize.”

Encouraging Signs
She and Sion knew she was poised for something big. They had been training at a middle school due to coronavirus restrictions, but had to find a bigger field when Allman’s throws were threatening to clear the fence and land in traffic.

They moved to a high school, where they didn’t measure, but Allman said, “There were a few times where I would throw and Coach and I would kind of just look at each other with big eyes, and be like, “That was pretty far, right?’”

“I was pretty sure they were high 60s,definitely nearing that 70-meter mark,” Sion said. “Obviously, I didn’t tell her that. I just told her they were really good.”

Meanwhile, they struggled to find a competition as meet after meet was postponed or canceled.

“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster,” said Allman.

After hearing about the meet in Idaho – about 2,000 miles from their home base in Austin, Texas, where Sion is the throws coach at the University of Texas, they had about 10 days to prepare.

Featuring just three female competitors, Allman knew she would medal Saturday if the invitational meet awarded medals, which it did not. But she came home with something even more satisfying: the American record.

“Our season opener might also have been our season ender,” Allman said with a laugh. “I think I’m OK with it. It’s wild to think there were so many times where I really did think about throwing the towel in, and honestly just wanted to take some time off and come back to begin prepping for next year.”

She credits Sion with keeping her going. “The fact I was so close to giving up when we were on the brink of something so amazing,” Allman said, “I feel like is the ultimate way to end the season.”

She could literally have been one and done. On Allman’s first throw, the discus flew exactly 3 meters farther than her previous best of 67.15. It was also more than 3 feet better than Gia Lewis-Smallwood’s record of 69.17 (226-11) from 2014. Lewis-Smallwood, who has been one of Allman’s role models, was one of the first to congratulate her when she looked at her phone.

Allman’s throw was even longer than Suzy Powell’s 2002 mark of 69.44, which was later declared invalid because of a downhill landing area.

I’ve never felt so thankful just to be able to compete at any point in my career.

The 70-Meter Club
Allman, 25, became the first American woman to join the elite 70-meter club (and also the first to surpass 230 feet). She ranks 24th on the all-time list, with many Eastern Bloc athletes, including world record holder Gabriele Reinsch of East Germany, who threw 76.80 in 1988, ahead of her.

“I was completely in shock when they said it was over 70 meters,” said Allman, who left behind a signed discus for the memorabilia wall at the center.

“It doesn’t feel real. That’s like the ultimate barrier in women’s discus. I’d always hoped it was something that maybe would be in the cards for me, but for it to happen this year, it’s something that I’m so proud of. It’s the ultimate testament to the partnership that Coach Sion and I have. He’s someone who believed I could do it, someone who has trained me to do it, and also to be able to execute and do it in the meet.

“A lot of previous women discus throwers have reached out to me saying that they’ve seen those throws happen to them in training, but they’d never been able to do it in a competition.”

After a laser measured the throw at 70.11 meters, officials brought out the steel tape to make sure it would be ratified as a record, which added 4 centimeters.

Allman called the steel tape “super old school. In my brain, I feel like it’s one of the true measures of something special.”

However, she became so emotional that it threw her off her game for a bit.

After a couple of fouls, Allman was back on form, unleashing the third- and fourth-best throws of her career during the series – 66.03 and 65.86 meters.

There was also a monster warmup throw that Sion will only hint was “really far.”

Long distance was the theme for the weekend as they made an eight-hour round-trip Sunday to Hermiston, Oregon, so Allman could meet a Doping Control Officer from Portland and provide a sample in a gas station restroom. World Athletics allows a 24-hour window to be tested in order for a mark to be ratified.

The inconvenience actually added to the richness of the experience.

“I kind of love that it played out that way,” Allman said, “and I’m so thankful there was someone that was able to work with us.”

Very Popular Video
Meanwhile, the clip of the record throw has been racking up more than 150,000 views and counting after Sion initially posted it on Twitter and Instagram and it was picked up by other outlets.

“Discus is such a niche sport that I love that hopefully it’s reaching more people that haven’t seen it,” Allman said. “I’m so proud of what we’ve done, and it’s meant the world how much people have reached out and celebrated and responded to what we’ve done.”

The viewers can appreciate Allman’s technique, in which she does one and a half turns before releasing the discus, followed by two complete turns that resemble a ballerina doing pirouettes.

“I think that’s one of those things that’s carried over from my dance background,” Allman said.

Sion said most throwers usually turn only once after they throw, but that the speed of her rotation is very natural.



“It’s definitely functional, but kind of stylistic, too,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

As a high school dancer in Colorado, Allman was invited to travel with performers and choreographers from the television show “So You Think You Can Dance.”  Recruited to join the track team, the promise of a spaghetti dinner convinced her to try the field events.

“Best spaghetti I’ve ever had,” she said.

Throwing the discus was “an experience where I truly did feel like I had a knack for it right from the start,” Allman said. “Just the way it came off my hand, I almost thought of it as choreography. ‘OK, my left arm has to move to here and then I move my right leg.’”

Her high school coach was the sprint coach and they learned the discus together, with Allman eventually recruited by Stanford University where she was an All-American in the discus, hammer and 20-pound weight throw.

However, she was disappointed that she did not capture an NCAA discus title, even though she won the USATF crown as a fifth-year senior.

Torn about pursuing her track career or a master’s degree en route to becoming a mechanical engineer, Allman decided to follow Sion to Texas and postpone her studies.

“I felt like we were just tapping into our potential,” Allman said. “He’s helped me far exceed my own expectations I ever had for myself.”

Moving to Texas has allowed her to become the thrower she was meant to be.

Allman Going All-In
“I think I was always scared to be all-in to throwing, and I think that when I moved to Austin I recognized that it was time,” said Allman, who also regrets not breaking the high school record. “It was time to buy in, to do everything that Coach Sion said was necessary to get better. I just let myself embrace completely being an athlete.

“It’s a scary profession. You completely rely on your body. In throwing, there’s not a ton of prize money, but the only way to do it, and the only way we’ve ever discussed doing it right, is to do it to the best of our ability.”

Then the coronavirus upended their plans. With the announcement of the postponement of the Olympic Games in March, Allman was “feeling a bit lost.”

“I just started to get a bit unmotivated,” she said. “It just seemed like a really daunting task to know that we were going to put in a lot of work and we might get to a point where we wouldn’t see it materialize. I think it was hard to dig deep at that point, to really find the intrinsic motivation to keep me going.

“There were definitely a lot of sessions where I showed up at training and was on the brink of tears,” Allman said.

“There were a lot of tears,” Sion added.

She and Sion discussed new goals, particularly ones they could control, such as getting stronger, technical refinements and even the American record.

“I definitely thought she was capable of throwing far much before she thought that way,” Sion said.

Allman went home to Colorado for a week and came back rejuvenated. The motivation returned, and it showed in her performance.

“I love to be a dreamer and I think this gives me a lot of confidence to head back to the world stage going into next year,” Allman said.

Or, using one of her mother’s terms, she said, “It gives me a really big pep in my step heading into 2021.”

That next step will include seeing if she can throw consistently in the 69-70 meter range.

“I’m super excited to see if we can maintain this,” Allman said. “I’m excited to compete again. There’s nothing like a great performance to make you want to have another one.”