From 2 a.m. onwards our house has been lit up each day this week to watch the World Championships in Berlin. (The athlete in the family, not me, though I usually get up and make a cup of tea.) I was delighted that a New Zealander won the shotput. Go, girl! Valerie Vili was born in Rotorua, New Zealand, to a Tongan mother (Lilika Ngauamo) and an English father. She is married to Bertrand Vili, a discus thrower from New Caledonia.
Valerie Vili's global domination of women's shot put continued at the athletics world championships in Berlin today. New Zealand's queen of the field won a second successive world title with a put of 20.44m, well short of her personal best but still more than enough for her to claim the gold medal by 24cm. She finished comfortably ahead of silver medallist, German Nadine Kleinert, who threw a career best 20.20m, and China's bronze medallist Lijao Gong, who managed a personal best of 19.89m.
"I'm just very happy and overwhelmed," Vili said. "We've done all this preparation and to come over here and defend it is ... well, two world titles, I'm pretty happy about that."
It was not all smooth going for Vili in front of a big parochial German crowd, cheering for three local finalists. She made an indifferent start with a timid first put of 19.40m and found herself in fifth overall after two rounds, having scratched her second effort by deliberately placing her foot over the barrier. Vili tries to set the tone in big competitions but was in the unusual position of having to play catch up.
Kleinhert had set the stadium alight with a first up personal best 20.06m and for a brief moment Vili looked vulnerable.
"I got off to a slow start. I knew Nadine would be in full swing because it is a home crowd for her," Vili, 24, said.
"But I like competition and I like the way she pushed me out there." Any pressure Vili may have felt early on soon diminished with a powerful display in round three as all her poise and composure returned. Vili knew her third throw was big the moment she released it and a fist pumping gesture to the crowd signalled her delight after it was measured at 20.25m.
While Kleinhert produced another personal best of 20.20m, the German was tiring.
With her confidence up and the earlier tension gone, Vili produced 20.44m with her fifth throw to guarantee her triumph.
She admitted afterwards that tension probably played a part in her first two puts.
"There is a bit more pressure as defending champion, especially wearing this gold bib which tells everyone you're defending champion. It's not as easy to do," she said.
Despite that pressure, Vili responded exactly as she hoped and said she did what was required to win. "Tonight I wasn't able to achieve what I wanted to throw but I achieved the title. That's got to be good for me, my country, my people, my family," she said. A sixth attempt was not required from Vili but she stepped regardless, registering 20.25m before the celebrations began.
Vili leapt about in joy at securing back to back world titles. She embraced her coach, Kirsten Hellier, in the stands before proceeding to acknowledge a small contingent of New Zealand fans by proudly waving the country's flag.
The victory caps another remarkable year for Vili, who in May broke her New Zealand record with a heave of 20.69m in Brazil. She joins German Astrid Kumbernuss and China's Zhihong Huang as the only multiple world shot put champions.