Michelle Carter celebrates after winning silver in the Women's Shot Put at the IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 on Aug. 9, 2017 in London.
Michael Carter first needed to just his daughter’s intentions.
When Michelle told her dad she wanted to join her junior high school track and field team as a seventh grader, Michael asked questions and listened closely as Michelle explained her motivations.
Once he was convinced that her interest in the shot put was genuine, Michael took Michelle out to the front yard of their Ovilla, Texas, home and put her through her first track practice.
Michael still has footage of that first practice on tape in case he wants to watch it on Father’s Day and get a good laugh.
“All I did was basically just start off at the very beginning, showing her how to hold a shot, where to place the shot and (to) just push through the shot,” Michael said. “We did that in the driveway, throwing into the grass, which is very simple. But it’s a must in order for you to learn how to throw it properly.”
As Michelle’s longtime coach, Michael has shared everything he knows about the shot put with his oldest child. It has become their family legacy, and she jokingly calls him “Coach Daddy.”
Michael was by his daughter’s side when Michelle became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the shot put with an American-record throw of 67 feet, 8¼ inches on her final attempt at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
However, Michelle didn’t know about her father’s own Olympic past until she was in high school. He didn’t talk about that part of his life, and he never hung the silver medal he won in the shot put at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984 on the wall for her to see.
“My dad, he knew what he accomplished in sports, and he definitely wanted his kids to pick their own path,” Michelle said. “So even when I did start, he didn’t make it a big deal about what he accomplished because he wanted me to pick what I wanted to do and how far I wanted to go with it.”
Michelle grew up knowing her father was famous for being a star football player. She was born almost one year after the 1984 Olympics, and he gave up the shot put right after the Los Angeles Games to begin an NFL career.
Michael became an All-Pro nose tackle who helped the San Francisco 49ers win three Super Bowls in the 1980s and ‘90s. Even then, he didn’t like talking about football at home and he didn’t want Michelle to attend his games.
Michael wanted his kids to live their own lives and not live in his shadow. So before taking up the shot put, Michelle played soccer and basketball and sang in her school choir — with her father’s support.
“If she wanted to stay in the choir and sing and be in the choir, I would’ve been perfectly happy with that,” Michael said. “Just because I was an athlete doesn’t mean that I would want my children to follow in those footsteps. Whatever they would’ve chosen, that was what I was going to support.”
Michelle learned about her father’s past as a world-class shot putter only after she qualified for the Texas high school track and field championships as a freshman. Not long after hearing people talking about her dad, she learned he owned the Texas state record in the shot put.
“It was like, ‘OK, cool.’ I didn’t think anything about that,” Michelle said. “As I get older, I realize how important it is and what all he really accomplished and what it really meant and what he was able to do during that time, especially being a double-sport athlete.”
Michael said he thought his daughter would face additional pressure because of his Olympic success. That’s no longer an issue, especially now that she has a gold medal to go along with his silver medal.
Michelle was prepared to defend her title this summer at the Tokyo Games, but she’ll instead have to wait another year. With the Olympics postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Michelle is working out in her garage and routinely checking in with her father.
Michael has coached his daughter for so long she has become accustomed to his style. Before he taught her how to throw the shot, he coached her basketball team in a church league.
“He was hard on us when we needed to really focus in on what we needed to focus on to get better. But it wasn’t like we weren’t allowed to do certain things and it was like shot put and nothing else,” Michelle said. “He kind of still let us have (the) freedom to do other things, but it did come to a point where he made it clear that I need to focus more on track in this moment if I want to get better.”
Along the way, Michael has had to adjust how he coaches his daughter because Michelle doesn’t feed off anger in the same way he did while competing.
There were times early on when Michelle would get upset with something her father said at track practice and not speak to him on the drive home and once they got to the house. Confused, he would ask, “What’s wrong?”
Michael has since learned when to apply pressure and when to ease up on her. He also maintained his composure and showed little emotion while watching Michelle win gold at the Rio Olympics.
“I knew the cameras would be on me, so I kept a straight face,” Michael said. “Inside I was jumping up and down, turning cartwheels and everything else, but on the outside I had that stoic look. I held it together until I got back to the hotel room and then I just cried like a big baby. I was so happy.”