By ELLIOTT DENMAN
EUGENE, OREGON – Question: Is there anyone out there who remembers Lillian Copeland?
Answer: Likely not.
That so, let me tell you (a) Lillian Copeland was the women’s discus throwing champion of the 1932 Los Angeles Games after she’d taken the silver medal at the historic Amsterdam Games of 1928, where women’s track and field was a first-time starter.
She’d have been a top medal candidate for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, too, but – being of the Jewish faith – would having nothing to do with traveling to a nation already descending into the massive, murderous depravities of Hitlerian hate.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, she’d surely have written several brilliant chapters in USC’s magnificent sports history, too – if only they’d have allowed her. But there was no such thing as organized women’s collegiate varsity competition –
with the track, like so much else limited to the male half of the human equation-in those unenlightened days.
Fast-forward to 2008 – and Stephanie Brown-Trafton’s epic discus win at the Beijing Olympic Games.
She got right down to it the first time she stepped into the ring and unleashed the throw that would prove to be the gold medal-winner in the opening round. No rival would come within a meter of her for all the rest of the competition.
Like Copeland, Brown-Trafton had been a California collegian. Her alma matter is Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo.
(Thus, the total of USA Olympic women’s disc champs has stood at two for 13 years; unless you bring Olga Fikotova Connolly into the conversation.
She’d won the gold medal for Czechoslovakia in the 1956 Games, was romanced, and quickly fell in love with Harold Connolly, the American who’d won the hammer throw at those ’56 Melbourne Games. They’d start a new life in America and Olga would become an American citizen and then a four-time USA discus Olympian, even carrying the American flag into the opening ceremonies of the 1972 Munich Games.)
So now let’s forward again, to June 19, 2021, day two of the USA Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, and a magnificent discus performance by Valarie (Val) Allman that had some fans (in the crowd drastically limited by Covid protocols) thinking, even dreaming of potential Olympic gold.
Whirling around the Hayward Field circle with the grace of a ballerina, Allman whipped her favorite platter out to distances that now rank her with the very best in the universe and far outranked her leading domestic opponents.
Her series was remarkably consistent: 69.45 meters/ 227-10 in round one, followed the eventual winner, 69.92/ 229-5 in throw two.
Three more great ones followed: 66.35/ 217-8, 68.65, 225-2, 68.46/ 22.47, Only her meaningless sixth throw – the competition already clinched – was a foul.
Micaela Hazlewood (62.54/ 205-2) placed second with Rachel Dincoff (60.21/ 197-6 ) third. Dinkoff is likely to be named to the Tokyo-bound team since she’d reached the Olympic standard in a pre-Trials meet, but Hazlewood (without the standard) likely to stay home…Probably in line to be added to the team is fifth-placer Ashley Whitney, also an owner of that all-critical Olympic standard.
Allman even got some fans into the action, encouraging their support each time she stepped into the ring.
“I’m normally a pretty shy person, but today I couldn’t help but lean into it,” Allman said. “I felt that helped the performance.”
When the pandemic first hit, Allman – like so many – was devastated by the limitations it imposed.
But rather than sulk, she and Coach Zebulon Sion simply amped up every aspect of their training routine.
Allman’s winning throw of 69.92 wasn’t even her best at these Olympic Trials. She’d blasted it out past the 70-meter mark – with a sensational, and seemingly relaxed 70.01/ 229-8 in Friday’s qualifying round.
Looking ahead to Tokyo, she can gaze ahead to fierce competition from the likes of the Netherlands’ Jarinda Van Klinken (the current world-leader at 70.22 / 230-4) as well as Cuba’s Jaime Perez, Croatia’s multi-titled Sandra Perkovic, and Jamaica’s Shadae Lawrence.
At 25, Allman is at the peak of her form. But one more question: Is a third American Olympic gold medal-this one by yet another former California collegian, Stanford grad Allman-is this ancient Grecian specialty in the cards?
Answer: Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting ride.
PS – Speaking of California collegians, UCLA’s Alyssa Wilson (the former star at Donovan Catholic HS in Toms River, NJ) placed a solid eighth at Trials at 57.64/ 189-1. She returns to Trials action with Thursday’s qualifying round of the hammer throw.