Writer DeLana Dameron: 'We show up in unexpected places'

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA shot putter Michelle Carter threw a 20.63m at the 2016 Rio Olympics, shattering the American record.

I had to scour the internet to find when women's shot put would be on for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

This search is not new to me. When I participated in high school track, the field events happened simultaneously with other events: the 400-meter track filled with lithe bodies running the 100, 200 and 1600.

One could easily miss some of the most technical and powerful things happening in the center of the track if you didn't know what to look for: the long jump, the high jump, the pole vault, the discus throw, the shot put.

My friends on the team never got to watch me throw -- they were warming up, running or cheering for the final leg of 4x100 relay.

Even in practice, girls' shot was secondary: We practiced while the rest of the team did warm-up laps and ran drills.

For boys, shot put was winter and spring training for football players who needed an activity to stay in shape during the offseason. For girls, there was little expectation that we were even athletes at all.

We knew we were different. Coach had to buy special outfits for us, singlets in XL, XXL. We girl shot putters performed in the shadows; we practiced in the shadows. We showed up in unexpected places -- a track, a podium. We excelled in unexpected places, too.

Just like shot putter Michelle Carter was not supposed to be the favorite for the 2016 Rio Olympics. She had come to the Games twice before, placing fifth in 2012 and 15th in 2008. I did not know who she was until I saw a woman who looked like me inching near the top of the field of throwers.

Like Carter at the Olympics, I had entered the 7-foot shot put ring that May day in 2002 with nothing to lose. I was not expected to win. In fact, it was my first time at the 4A South Carolina state track meet -- the largest division for competition in the region.

Since I had eked into the state meet, I was first to throw during our competition. Most shot putters believe that to be the best at shot put, you have to have height. I had my father's genes stuffed into my mother's 5-foot-3 frame, and I carried my strength in my lower body, my legs, like my father.

This sport requires muscle and technique and lower-body strength and concentration.

So watching a 5-9 Carter in Rio 2016, I smiled at how the favorite, New Zealand's Valerie Adams, who stood 6-4, had come to defend her two-time gold medal status, hoping for her third straight. On Adams' second-to-last shot, you could tell she was worried that there were too many women near her distance and needed to muster strength.

Adams glided across the ring, her body board-straight, tense. Her scream as the shot put cut the air felt like a last attempt to intimidate her competitors and mark her territory.

My high school coach used to say the girls who grunted were the ones not to worry about -- that it was the body trying to gather all its strength, and, if you could, to use those moments to take the lead.

Courtesy of DéLana R.A. Dameron

"I had entered the 7-foot shot put ring that May day in 2002 with nothing to lose. I was not expected to win," DéLana R.A. Dameron writes.

Carter stepped up to the ring in the spirit of nothing left to lose, everything to gain. Her face and shoulders were relaxed, even though Adams had thrown a pass farther than any of Carter's five previous throws. Carter's look said she earned being at the Games, and I could imagine the words in her head as she lifted the shot put -- the words of my own coach to trust your training. You can't force it. You must use grace and precision.

To throw a shot put far is technical. Shot put is about having a relaxed body, and a firm grip, and snapping your hips at the right moment and opening up your chest and letting the shot put soar.

As Carter glided across the ring, her body was supple, malleable. She immediately went into control mode -- you cannot fall out of the ring, touch the top of the box or any part of the metal ring or else the throw is invalid. To control her body, she continued to let inertia take over, and she balanced on one foot, unable to watch where the ball landed.

Carter, with her flawless makeup, her curly hair in a high ponytail and her royal blue USA outfit, let her body do its job, let the shot put do its job and threw 20.63 meters (67 feet, 8¼ inches), an American record.

And we know how the 2016 Olympic shot put story ends. Adams muscled the final throw of the event, and it was shorter than even her previous throw. The cameras started crowding around Carter, who at that point had a silver Olympic medal like her father, Michael Carter, a 1984 shot put Olympian, until the officials measured Adams' final throw.

When it became clear that Carter had won, the announcer asked, "Where did that come from?"

But I knew. We show up -- our full-bodied athletic selves -- in unexpected places. We win.

DéLana R.A. Dameron is the author of "Weary Kingdom" and "How God Ends Us." She is an arts and culture administrator and lives in Brooklyn.

Related Content