RIO DE JANEIRO – More than a half-century had passed since a woman from the United States earned an Olympic medal in shot put. An American woman had never before won gold. University of Texas alum Michelle Carter certainly knows better than most just how difficult it is to reach the podium on track and field’s biggest stage.
She qualified for the 2008 Games, where she finished in 15th place. Four years later at the London Olympics, she was fifth. The Red Oak, Texas, native carried that history into the Olympic Stadium throwing circle Friday night, where she loaded the shot under her jaw, spun with incredible force and launched her name into the record books.
Carter, 30, won Olympic gold and set an American record on her final throw of the night, heaving the shot 20.63 meters and unseating New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, the two-time defending Olympic champion, in the process.
“Everybody wants to come out and win the gold. Sometimes it takes a personal best, sometimes it doesn’t,” Carter said. “To be able to have all those pieces finally come together that you’ve been working on…it’s a great feeling.”
Carter became the first American woman to reach the podium in shot put since Earlene Brown at the 1960 Games in Rome.
Adams seemed poised for a third straight Olympic title, leading the field heading into the final round. Carter was in second place, which meant she would be the second-to-last woman to step into the throwing circle.
“I know I had one more throw and I wanted to give it my all,” Carter said.
“All I could do is just pray in that moment,” she said. “‘You know what Michelle, this is it.'”
While her throw leaped her ahead of Adams, the strong New Zealand thrower stepped up for the competition’s final throw. It went high and it went far, but it fell just short of Carter’s mark. Adams’s third throw in the competition – 20.42 meters – was her best and earned her the silver.
“You can never underestimate anybody, especially Michelle,” Adams said. “She’s one of these people who can pop out anything, especially on the last throw.”
Hungary’s Anita Marton won bronze with a throw of 19.87 meters. Carter’s U.S. teammate Raven Saunders finished in fifth with a personal-best throw of 19.35 meters.
In breaking her own national record and reaching the top of the podium, Carter not only made U.S. history, but she also locked down some family bragging rights. Her father, Mike Carter won a silver medal in the men’s shot put 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Her father approached her afterward, as Carter talked with reporters and offered a big hug.
“I know he is proud and he’s happy, along with my whole family,” Carter said.
The win marked the first gold medal for the U.S. track field team at these Rio Games.