Eugene / Stanford: Trailblazers Lead Way in Pre Classic Women’s Shot Put
They will meet on U.S. soil for the first time, joined by three young Americans who have each blazed new paths.
Lijiao Gong, 30, won her second IAAF Diamond League trophy last year, the most in this event besides Valerie Adams, who is sitting out this year on maternity leave. That victory matched a second-straight No. 1 in the T&FN world rankings, merely her 12th-straight appearance – all at No. 6 or better, a streak that began when she was as an 18-year-old in 2007.
The Chinese treasure is the reigning world champion, and her only major gold in the 2017 London Worlds was China’s first since Zhihong Huang in 1993. Gong’s first U.S. appearance came at the 2013 Pre Classic, when she set a meet record 66-0¼ (20.12), only to be surpassed by one inch by Adams.
Michelle Carter, 33, produced the event’s best U.S. moment when she won Olympic gold—the first-ever by an American—in Rio. On her final effort she improved by over 2 feet to overtake Adams, then in line to become the first woman in any event to win three Olympic golds.
It wasn’t the first time Carter showed such heroics. In March of that year she had come from behind to win the World Indoor Championships in Portland with a 3-foot improvement to earn the first major gold by an American. She finished the season with a flourish to earn the first U.S. No. 1 in T&FN’s world rankings.
Carter won her first U.S. title as a Junior (U20) in 2003 at Stanford, and while she’s a clear Texan in heart she was actually born in nearby San Jose – after dad/coach Michael followed his1984 Olympic shot bronze with the first of three Super Bowl rings for the San Francisco 49ers. That first Super Bowl was at Stanford in January 1985. Carter is popular on Twitter (@ShotDiva) and approaching the 3-month anniversary of her wedding in January.
Christina Schwanitz, 33, is returning well from a maternity break – she was No. 2 in T&FN’s world rankings last year, her highest since a No. 1 in 2015 also saw her win World Championships gold and the Diamond League trophy.
Schwanitz is the first German major gold medalist this century and was first world ranked by T&FNas a 19-year-old in 2005. In January she competed in the U.S. for the first time, finishing 2nd to Maggie Ewen in Boston.
Youngest in the field is American Raven Saunders, who will turn 23 on May 15. She was world-ranked No. 3 last year by T&FN, her third-straight Top 10 ranking. Saunders is known for stiff competition, including last year’s Diamond League final where she held the lead until Gong overtook her in round 5. She owned the lead in the 2016 Olympic Trials before being surpassed by Carter in round 6 and a month later was 5th in the Rio Olympics at age 20.
Saunders won her first U.S. title in 2017 following four indoor/outdoor NCAA crowns for Southern Illinois and Mississippi. The South Carolina native is the collegiate record holder at 64-2¼ (19.56) and is coached by Connie Price-Smith, the only two-time Pre Classic winner and whose World Indoor silver in 1995 was the U.S. major best until Carter’s golds in 2016.
Maggie Ewen, 24, is in her first professional year after a stellar collegiate career at Arizona State topped by four NCAA titles in three events, setting collegiate records in two. She is the only thrower – man or woman – to be a finalist twice for The Bowerman Award as the nation’s top collegian.
Which event is her best? Last summer the Minnesota native won her first U.S. title in the shot, with Carter and Saunders both in her wake, and her season was strong enough to be ranked No. 8 in the world by T&FN. She made the U.S. World Championships team in the hammer in 2017 after her first-ever NCAA title. In the discus, she won last year’s NCAA title on her last throw and was runner-up in the U.S. championships.
24-year-old Chase Ealey won her first U.S. title indoors in February and has gained even more prominence with the world’s early longest efforts outdoors in New Zealand and Arizona, the best at 64-6½ (19.67). Now the No. 6 American ever, the New Mexico native was NCAA runner-up in 2016 in her final year at Oklahoma State when she first threw over 60 feet. Ealey has been using the rotation technique for less than a year.
Anita Marton, 30, is the Hungarian record holder who won her first major gold last year at the World Indoor Championships after a silver in 2016 in Portland. Outdoors she owns a silver from the 2017 London Worlds and an Olympic bronze from Rio.
Aliona Dubitskaya, 29, was the European bronze medalist last year for Belarus and was ranked No. 7 by T&FN, her highest yet. She is a former World Youth (U18) and European Junior (U20) gold medalist.
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Tickets for the 45th annual edition of the Prefontaine Classic, to be held June 30 at Cobb Track & Angell Field in Stanford, Calif., are available now by clicking here or at gostanford.com/tickets. Tickets can also be ordered by calling 1-800-STANFORD.