NewsValarie Allman

From Dancer To Discus Thrower, Valarie Allman Is Team USA’s First Track Champ In Tokyo

by Chrös McDougall

Valarie Allman celebrates at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 2, 2021 in Tokyo.


TOKYO — Valarie Allman used to tour the country as a dancer. Now, she says, her dance routines are a second and a half, and repeated over and over again.
On Monday, she needed just one of those dances to become an Olympic gold medalist. Allman took a few well-place steps, spun and then threw the discus 68.98 meters (226-3) on her first attempt during the evening session at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium. That throw not only secured a win in her first Olympics, but also Team USA’s first gold medal in track and field at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Kristin Pudenz of Germany won the silver medal, while Cuba’s Yaime Perez won the bronze.
“I can’t believe it,” Allman said. “I’ve watched the Olympics for as long as I can remember and athletics has always had such a special part in my heart, and to now be here, be in his moment, it feels so surreal.”
Coming into the Olympics with the second best mark so far in 2021, Allman set the standard with her first throw. That proved to be key when a rain delay suspended the competition after the second throw and disrupted the throwers’ momentum. A strong start was part of the plan, though, for just this reason.
“My coach and I always talk about being able to set the tone right at the start of the competition,” she said. “And to come out with a solid mark like that felt good.”
Allman, 26, becomes just the third U.S. woman to win an Olympic gold medal in discus, joining Lillian Copeland in 1932 and Stephanie Brown Trafton in 2008.
Only a decade ago, Allman’s future looked more likely to be as a dancer. Since she was a girl, she’d always loved to dance — ballet, hip-hop, tap, you name it. Eventually she was selected to join “The Pulse on Tour,” a traveling dance program organized by the choreographers of hit TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol.”
“I absolutely loved dance,” she said. “There’s something so beautiful about the movement and the coordination and the balance.”
A spaghetti dinner set her on a new path.
When Allman arrived at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colorado, the track coach there couldn’t help but notice her physical gifts. Looking for an activity to do outside of dance, Allman went out for the team. Her time as a sprinter and jumper didn’t quite tug at her passions, though.
Then she found out the throwers were hosting a spaghetti dinner.
“They said if you come try any of the throwing events you can come to the dinner,” Allman said. “That won me over. Now looking back, gosh darn that was the best spaghetti dinner of my entire life. I can’t believe it.”
Allman quickly rose through the sport. She went from setting the Colorado high school state record to Stanford, where she won All-America honors doing the discus, hammer throw and weight throw. By 2017 she had graduated and made her first world championships in discus, and two years later she made the final there.
Her real breakthrough came, of all times, during the pandemic.
In 2019, with Allman having turned pro, she used the season to “normalize” competing against top competition in Diamond League events across Europe, her coach Zebulon Sion said.
“And it worked,” he said. “She become more comfortable, more familiar, got good at traveling, all those types of things. And then 2020 was literally the opposite. All of a sudden we don’t have any meets. So now it’s literally just focusing it down, scoping it down to training, thinking about things the right way.”
The only thing missing was a competition. If one came up, they decided, they’d go.
As it worked out, there was an event called the Iron Wood Throws Center Invite taking place on Aug. 1 — the day the discus competition at the Tokyo Games was supposed to start, prior to its postponement. The only problem? The meet was in Rathdrum, Idaho. That’s about 2,000 miles away from Allman’s training base in Austin, Texas, where Sion also coaches the Texas Longhorns throwers.
No matter.
They packed up the car and drove to Idaho. Then, in her first competition in 10 months, she set an American record. With a throw of 70.15 meters — or 230 feet, 2 inches — Allman also joined the exclusive 70 meter club. Allman became the 25th woman to do it (it’s since grown to 26). For good measure, she and Sion then added an eight-hour round-trip to Hermiston, Oregon, to complete a drug test needed for World Athletics to certify the record. A Doping Control Officer from Portland met them at a gas station not collect the sample.
Allman’s throw was no fluke. She hit the 70-meter mark again during the prelims at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in June, then won the final by throwing 7.38 meters (24 feet, 3 inches) beyond her closest competitor. 
Arriving in Tokyo as a medal favorite, Allman cruised through the prelims on Saturday, her 66.42 meter mark outpacing the field by more than two meters. On the first throw Monday she upped her own distance by more than two meters. The final thrower in the sixth round, Allman scratched, but it didn’t matter. She already had the gold locked up. Spreading her arms in triumph, Allman looked into the dark night sky, then ran to meet Sion in the crowd and get an American flag to drape around her.
“Our team is filled with so many incredible athletes,” she said, “and I am just blown away that I am not only a medalist — I am the gold medalist. It is like a dream come true.”

Benard Keter competes at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 2, 2021 in Tokyo.


Benard Keter, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, stayed within sight of the leaders early in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase but faded in the final lap to finish 11th, in 8:22.12.
In a wide open field without Rio gold medalist and two-time defending world champion Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya, who failed to get through his country’s Olympic trials, four African runners created some separation by the 6-minute mark, then Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali broke free to win in 8:08.90. The victory marked the first time since 1968 that a Kenyan runner had entered the race and not won. The only times a Kenyan did not win during that stretch were in 1976 and 1980, when the country boycotted the Games.
Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma finished second, followed by Benjamin Kigen of Kenya.
The women’s 5,000-meter featured six of the 12 fastest women of all time. Karissa Schweizer, the 16th fastest ever, and teammate Elise Cranny fell to the back of the field early and ran the 12.5 laps mostly together. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands broke away late to win in 14:36.79, followed by Kenya’s Hellen Obiri and Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay. Schweizer, who will also run the 10K later in the week, took seventh with a time of 14:55.80. Cranny was two spots behind her in 14:55.98, a season-best time.

Sydney McLaughlin competes at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 2, 2021 in Tokyo.


Monday’s evening session was also a preview for high-profile events to come.
A steady rain began to fall just before the women’s 400-meter hurdles semifinals. That didn’t seem to slow world record holder Sydney McLaughlin (53.03) and defending Olympic champion Delilah Muhammad (53.30), who each coasted to easy wins in their respective heats. They’ll be joined in the finals Wednesday by by the two-time defending NCAA champ in the event, Anna Cockrell (54.17), who finished second in the final heat.
McLaughlin stretched and slapped her legs to keep warm ahead of the race but had no trouble with the rain once the gun went off.
“It’s one of those things you can’t control,” McLaughlin said. “You’ve just got to address it. I wish I had some waterproof mascara on my eyes but other than that it was OK.”
The third best finisher in the semifinals was six-tenths of a second behind Muhammad, who is also the reigning world champion.
Michael Cherry (44.44) and Michael Norman (44.52) each advanced in the men’s 400, with Cherry winning his heat. Norman, competing in the country of his mother’s birth, recorded the fourth fastest time in the world at the Olympic trials. The men’s 400 final is Thursday.
In the women’s 200, Gabby Thomas hung on to advance to Tuesday’s final on time. The Harvard grad ran the second fastest time in history at the Olympic trials, crossing the line in 21.61. After finishing second in her prelim heat earlier on Monday, Thomas was third in her semifinal, though her time of 22.01 was actually the third fastest among the eight qualifiers.
Also on Monday, Katie Nageotte cleared the qualifying height of 4.55 meters to move on to the women’s pole vault finals on Thursday. Sandi Morris, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world championships silver medalist, will not.
Morris was attempting a vault during the qualifying round when her pole broke. Morris wrote on social media that she hyperextended her hip flexor and it was “shooting pain down my leg and clicking, and my quad was cramping as a reaction.” Although she tried to continue on, her final height of 4.40 meters left her short of qualifying. She wrote that she was “devastated,” though also at peace.
“I can walk away from today know(ing) I gave it all I had,” she wrote.
Nageotte, meanwhile, was able to get her only jump in before the rain came.
“I just got a little bit lucky with where I was in the lineup and was able to take my attempt at 4.55 before the rain,” she said. “It was an interesting one, but I’m just happy I got there.”

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.