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.
“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.”
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.