US shot put record holder Michelle Carter talks to SPIKES about having an Olympic medal-winning dad for a coach, her 4x100m potential, and why it’s “anybody’s game” in Moscow.
It has taken time and a bundle of patience, but Michelle Carter has stepped out of the shadows and could be set to emulate her father as an outdoor shot put medallist on the senior global stage.
Michelle, daughter of Michael Carter, who won silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, has for the past three or four seasons been a consistent finalist at major outdoor championships, without ever really threatening the top three spots.
She did secure a bronze medal at the 2012 World Indoor Championships in Istanbul last year but it was only after launching the shot out to a new national record 20.24m at the US champs – a 0.38 improvement on her personal best – that has she truly elevated herself into the world-class bracket.
“I’m very excited,” says Michelle, who is based in Dallas. “I’ve been working very hard this year and everything is coming together. It has given me a little bit of extra confidence going into the worlds.”
You might expect the daughter of an Olympic shot put silver medallist to have been hothoused and primed to excel in that discipline from a young age, but Michelle took her own path.
She started her sporting career as as soccer goalkeeper, “until the ball hit me in the face and I quit” before switching to basketball. However, after missing the “try out” for the sport at her new school, she was encouraged to compete in athletics.
Dad Michael is also a noted San Francisco 49ers legend, and the only man in history to win an Olympic medal and Super Bowl Ring within 12 months. He was less than impressed.
“My dad said, ‘did anyone put you up for this?’ He said that because he knew they were aware of who he was. He knew the pressure and expectation that would come with that and he didn’t want me to deal with that.”
Yet after some discussion, he reluctantly agreed Michelle should take up athletics. Her natural strength and athleticism was a perfect fit for the shot, and Michael quickly took up the coaching reins.
Michelle Carter won world indoor bronze in 2012 with a throw of 19.58m.
Aged 15 she made her international debut, at the 2001 World Youth Championships, winning a silver medal behind a girl from New Zealand named Valerie Adams, who set a championship record that still stands.
Adams has gone on to dominate the sport, winning three world and two Olympic titles. “I remember looking at Valerie and thinking she was so tall,” says Michelle.“I thought, I need to grow a few more inches.”
Now 5ft 9ins (1.75m) and weighing in at around 210 pounds (95kg), Michelle never developed into the biggest of shot putters but has enjoyed steady progress under her dad’s guidance.
“It was hard at first because your parents are your parents, and as my dad was my coach too, you think: ‘I don’t want to look at you all the time!’
"The older I got, though, I realised this is what I want to do with my life. Then I was able to focus and become more serious about it.”
Michelle also has a secondary coach in Jon Drummond, the 2000 Olympic 4x100m gold medallist and 9.92 100m man. Drummond works on her sprint and conditioning work. The shot putter should not be underestimated when it comes to her speed.
Training two or three times a week with the likes of world 4x100m gold medallist Marshevet Hooker and Olympic 4x100m silver medallist Trell Kimmons, Michelle straddles both field and track.
“I’m a quick athlete, and I try to make sure I’m as fast as I can be,” she says. “I was training in London last year and they [the US sprinters] were saying: ‘if anybody gets hurt, we can use Michelle in the 4x100m’.
"I always said, before I retire I want to run a 60m. If I can push out of those blocks well I know I can make somebody nervous, and I won’t finish last.”
After her world youth silver a dozen years ago she went on to win the world junior title in 2004. However, adapting to life in the senior ranks has been a slow process, and she didn’t make her first major international final until 2009. At the Berlin world champs she placed sixth, and two years later in Daegu she was ninth before finishing fifth at the London Olympics.
Carter set an American record of 20.24m (66ft 5ins) at the US Championships in June.
Her national record 20.24m, set in Des Moines, has hinted that greater results lie down the road.
“The biggest thing I’ve worked on this winter is to get my strength levels up,” she says. “I’ve always been weak for a shot putter but we’ve really focused on the weights room.
"Last year I could bench press around 175lbs [79kg], but it was hard and I could only do one or two. This year I can do maybe five sets of five at 175lbs, so the quality of my work is much better."
Michelle says the focus is now on honing that technique in the countdown to Moscow, where medals are very much the goal. She refuses to dismiss the thought of denying her frival (a friend who is also a rival) Valerie Adams a fourth straight world title.
“You know that nine times out of ten, Valerie is going to have a big throw but at the same time anybody in the top five or six is liable to have a big throw, so you never know,” she says. “It is anybody’s game.”
You can follow Michelle on Twitter at @ShotDiva, and also find out what rule she would change if she was in charge of athletics.