TOKYO – Valarie Allman had no idea that going to a spaghetti dinner when she was 15 could start her down the road to becoming an Olympic gold medalist.
Allman won the gold medal in discus on Monday for the first gold in track and field for the U.S. team at the Tokyo Olympics and the first discus medal won by an American woman since 2008. Allman won with a throw of 226 feet, 3 inches, beating Germany’s Kristin Pudenz (219-4), who took silver. Cuba’s Yaime Perez won the bronze.
Long before her athletic career, Allman spent a year traveling the U.S. as part of “The Pulse on Tour,” a dance program from choreographers for the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.” But as a teenager at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colorado, Allman decided she didn’t want to immerse herself in dance anymore.
That’s when the throwers on the high school track and field team convinced Allman to come to their annual spaghetti dinner. But there was a caveat.
“They said anybody that came to try throwing could come to the dinner,” Allman said.
Allman agreed and immediately found she had a knack for throwing the discus. Her dance background made it somewhat of a seamless transition.
“I kind of fell in love with the event,” she said. “There’s a poetic movement to it that has really helped when I first started, and it’s become such a passion in every sense. It’s a combination of grace, strength, balance, having an awareness of your body and being able to move it with force. That’s mainly what discus throwing is.”
Allman didn’t need much time to excel; she was the 2013 high school national discus leader. She accepted a scholarship to Stanford, where she became a school record-holder and six-time All-American.
As a professional, she’s steadily climbed the world rankings. She placed seventh at the 2019 World Championships, throwing 202 feet, 10 inches.
“I improved over time. I found that I would make it to the next echelon and get humbled, but for me that was really motivating,” Allman said.
Since finishing a “humbling” seventh in the world, she bettered her world championship mark by nearly 30 feet. She threw an American-record 230 feet, 2 inches in 2020. She later won this year’s Olympic trials with a throw of 229 feet, 5 inches.
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Roughly a month-and-a-half later, she’s an Olympic champion and the first American woman to win gold in the discus since Stephanie Brown Trafton in 2008.
“Stephanie Brown Trafton is somebody that I’ve admired and looked up to. She was throwing crazy when I first got into the sport,” Allman said. “To build on a legacy that’s been rare in the United States would be an honor.”
And the journey all began with dancing and a spaghetti dinner.
“Now looking back, gosh darn that was the best spaghetti dinner of my entire life. It led to this,” Allman said. “I can’t believe it. I feel so thankful.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Valarie Allman wins discus, first gold in US track and field in Tokyo