Upon her graduation from Silver Creek High School in 2013, Valarie Allman was already a champion discus thrower and Stanford University was awaiting her arrival.
At that time, however, she never envisioned being 26 years old and still throwing the discus.
“Had someone said, ‘OK, eight years from now, you’re still gonna be throwing,’ I’d be like, ‘What? No way. Absolutely no way,’” Allman said last week. “But I mean, I am so happy that I found something that’s so fulfilling and exciting. I’m so happy that this journey is still continuing and excited to see where it goes.”
Where the journey has taken her this week is Tokyo for her first experience in the Summer Olympics.
The American record holder in the women’s discus, Allman won the event at the U.S. Olympic Trials last month – setting a Trials record in the process. Her qualifying throw of 229 feet, 8 inches at the Trials would have been good enough to win any of the last six Olympics.
Competition for women’s discus begins Friday evening (Mountain time) and Allman goes in with the second-best throw in the world this year. Her competition will include reigning two-time Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic of Croatia and reigning world champion Yaime Perez of Cuba.
“I respect both of them so much as competitors,” Allman said. “They both are absolutely amazing women, amazing competitors and it’s definitely going to be a challenge. Our goal is to execute the technique and however that stacks up on the day, as long as I compete with composure and really work on the things that we’ve been trying to do in practice, then I think I’ll feel happy with the performance. I want to compete, I want to make the United States proud.”
Allman was a two-time Class 4A state champion at Silver Creek, where she was also co-valedictorian. During her prep career, she set 29 meet records and 11 stadium records.
At Stanford, she was a six-time All-American. As a senior in 2018, she earned first-team All-American honors in the discus (third place) and hammer throw (eighth). She was top five in the discus three times at nationals during her career.
Since then, she has taken her game to a whole new level, including setting the American record (230 feet, 2 inches) at a meet in Rahdrum, Idaho, on Aug. 1, 2020. In 2019, she was first in the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships and seventh in the IAAC World Championships.
“When I found this (sport) at Silver Creek, it was just the emerging of a new passion,” she said. “With time, I really leaned into exploring that to my fullest ability and with each year. It’s organically happened that I’ve devoted more and more of my life to want to be all into this; figuring out the little ways to optimize all aspects of trying to throw a discus as far as possible.
“Silver Creek was the perfect place to find something that was new and was supported in the community and energizing and I felt like I was contributing to my team. And the fact that it’s still such a big part of my life, I’m so thankful for the roots I have in Colorado that really showed me that this is something that I had potential in. … I feel so thankful that I found something that I never would have tried had it not been for people that encouraged me back home in Colorado.”
She has found plenty of encouragement since leaving Silver Creek, as well, most notably with her coach, Zeb Sion. The two met at Stanford, where he coached the throwers, and Sion, now at Texas, has now coached Allman for five years.
Sion said Allman’s progress since the Silver Creek days goes well beyond improving her strength and technique.
“It’s been a kind of holistic concept,” Sion said. “Literally, everything from technical improvements to power and strength improvements to nutritional changes she made, to psychological ways of thinking about things. It’s kind of like the whole deal.
“It’s been obviously pretty amazing to see that relatively linear ascension and improvement over her career.”
As Allman and Sion prepare for the Olympics, they have taken the approach that this is just another track and field meet. Of course, it’s a big meet, but Allman has competed internationally and against all of her top competitors many times before. Sion added that some of the COVID-19 restrictions in place actually work in Allman’s favor, in terms of not making the meet too big.
“Obviously it comes down to executing our plan and our approach,” Sion said. “Statistically she’s in a good spot in terms of how far she’s thrown, the number of times she’s thrown far. All those things are valuable to have in the back of your brain, but on the day (of competition), we just execute.”
If she executes to the best of her ability, Allman has a chance to join some elite company.
Throughout Olympic history, 63 medals have been awarded in women’s discus, from 1928-2016. Only five have gone to the United States — with only two of those since 1932. Lillian Copeland (in 1932) and Stephanie Brown Trafton (2008) are the only American women to win the event.
“It’s been very scarce in this event, to have American women earn medals,” Allman said. “It’s definitely elite company. If I manage to be a part of it, gosh, I would be so proud.
“To earn a medal at the Olympics is an honor across the board. The color, it does matter, but to be on the podium representing the United States would be absolutely an achievement that I would be so proud of.”