26 Oct 2022

At The Movies - Dame Valerie Adams: More Than Gold

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 26 October 2022

Dame Valerie Adams: More Than Gold tells the story of one of our most acclaimed sporting figures, and her dream to make it to her fifth Olympic Games. 

It's one of the few certainties in the New Zealand film business that if you're a leading sports figure, there's a good chance you'll get a documentary made about you. Though mostly the stars have tended to be male - All Blacks, boxers, racing car drivers and the like.

But no one could argue with the latest recipient - Olympic gold-medal-winning shotputter Dame Valerie Adams.

I assumed this new film - directed and produced by documentary aristocracy, Briar March and Leanne Pooley, respectively - was originally just going to be called the rather cryptic More Than Gold.

Wiser heads prevailed, though, and they eventually put 'Dame Valerie Adams' at the front of the title, thus letting us know who it was about, and also how it was going to work out for her.

Personally, I didn't mind the spoiler built into the title. My knowledge of Valerie Adams was embarrassingly limited.

I knew she was a brilliant athlete - albeit in the rather niche sport of the shotput.

I knew she did well at several Olympics, and I knew that she was loved by pretty much everyone who knew her. So where's the drama? I wondered.

I soon found out. Knowing, as I say, next to nothing, I was kept on the edge of my seat all the way through Dame Valerie Adams: More Than Gold.

I did know that basketball legend Steve Adams was her brother though I didn't know how many other brothers and sisters they had.

I didn't feel so bad about this when it turned out they weren't sure either.

Valerie was brought up in Tonga until her parents split up, forcing Valerie's mother to take off with the kids and start again in South Auckland.

Valerie, who stood very tall, was bullied regularly. My favourite story in a movie full of great stories is when her best friend - one of the smallest kids in her class - comes to her rescue.

Valerie tells her own story in this documentary and you can see why. It's one of those true stories you couldn't make up. Potentially crushing events turn out to be career-building ones.

Like sitting next to her dying mother, both watching the Sydney Olympics on TV, when she makes the decision to go for the next one.

It's a series of one door closing and another opening. How did she even take up such an esoteric sport? How much work goes into preparing for an event that often comes down to a few one-second throws?

Well, I can answer that last question now. A lot. Watching Valerie Adams at work in the gym is often quite terrifying.

So much effort, so much power, so little respite. Often her coaches' job was to remind her to give her body a rest once in a while.

The framing story of the film is the buildup to the Tokyo Olympics - the Olympics, you remember, that was almost scuppered by Covid, with the constant threat that all that gruelling preparation may have been for nothing.

But the film isn't simply about this being Valerie's unprecedented fifth Olympics.

It was competing after the birth of a child that almost killed her. It was spending months apart from her family. It was the danger - not that she might not win a gold medal - but that she may not survive the event at all.

If you're a big sports fan, go and see Dame Valerie Adams: More Than Gold if you haven't already seen it.

But if you're not a big sports fan, go and see it too - it's quite fantastic. The less you know going in, the more you'll love it.

A signature moment for me was Dame Valerie Adams picking up an International award somewhere. Her thank you speech was in English, Tongan and French - all languages she's fluent in. Who knew?

The awards she's won over the years are great, of course. But as the title says - and I get it now - this film is more than gold.


Dame Valerie Adams on More Than Gold: 'I want to share my life so that people can see the nitty-gritty parts of it, the raw parts of it, but also seeing you work through all of that'


Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to At The Movies

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)