The following excerpt is from Chapter Five: “Shot Diva Extraordinaire.” It describes the origins of the shot put as a sport and details the tournament where Michelle Carter competed to earn the first American gold medal for women in the shot put. (Earlene Brown, whom I have also chronicled on this blog and in the book, earned the bronze medal in 1960.) This opening segment profiles Carter as she competes in the U.S. Olympic Trials, attempting to earn a spot at Rio.
Gold Medal: Women’s Shot Put
What weighs 260 pounds, can throw an 8.8-pound lead weight across a swimming pool, and is smokin’ with style?
The answer is Michelle Carter, the best female shot putter in the whole wide world.
On a rainy summer evening in July 2016, 31-year-old Carter is waiting for the signal to take her last throw at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The shot put circle is slick with rainwater, and droplets are pattering softly, visibly in the puddles. Umbrellas can be seen in the stands throughout Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, where track and field starts and ends in the United States. Everyone is wearing a hat to fend off the rain except Carter, who frowns a little, looking at the wet asphalt as she steps carefully into the circle. As she counts off her steps and adopts her throwing form—right hand steadying the shot against her neck and left hand straight out—the massive arms and strong legs are conspicuous. So, too, is the careful, practiced technique as she bends, taps her toe twice, then twists a half rotation and heaves, a high, arcing shot of 19.59 meters to win the competition.
Also conspicuous are the sculpted gold nails which cradle the leaden ball against her dark skin, as are thick long eyelashes and maroon lipstick. Even more striking are the reddish bursts of curled hair, pulled back in a tube by an intricately folded black headband, crowned with an ornate design. Carter’s look is more than eye-catching; it is fascinating, mesmerizing, and full-on glamorous. Her throw was near a previous Olympic record.
She is an amazing athlete who also happens to believe fervently in promoting positive body images for women, especially larger women. In a pre-Olympic summer interview, she outlined how her approach to competition includes physical, mental, and cosmetic appearance:
Even today, as an Olympic athlete, I always get my nails done a couple of days before a meet, and decide on a hairstyle, too. The night before, I’ll lay out the makeup I want to put on: a brow filler, a lipstick—there’s a NYX red one that looks great with those Team USA uniforms—and my lashes. I have to have my lashes. For me, it all sets the tone: I’m getting ready to go to work.Carter, interviewed in Redbook.
Such is the attitude and persona that is the self-proclaimed shot diva, Michelle Carter.