Ramona Pagel

Jillian Camarena-Williams makes shot-put, and love, history

DAEGU, South Korea -- Sure, technique helps. Right, being healthy is huge. But when you're in love, really truly madly in love, the kind of love they write about in books and they make movies about, when your husband is your soulmate, and you're out there in front of the cheering thousands, and you've got to will yourself to go places you've never gone before, he's there with you.

It's true love. It is.

That's the kind of love that Jillian Camarena-Williams and her husband, Dustin, have, and it's why she won a bronze medal in the shot put Monday night at the 2011 track and field world championships with a throw of 20.02 meters, or 65 feet, 8 1/4 inches -- the first medal of any kind for an American woman in the history of the track worlds.

It's love, and if it seems improbable that love is the reason why Jillian did something no American had ever done before, it's not improbable to Jillian, to Dustin or to her coach, Craig Carter. Because when she was asked, an American flag draped around her, to explain how she had just made history, she said, with zero hesitation, "I married that man over there and I have that man over there as my coach."

It's almost as if fate has been pointing Jillian and Dustin toward this moment -- and, you'd have to suggest, London next year.

They met at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, where she was competing and he was an athletic trainer. She went on to the Games, finishing 12th. When she came back, she moved up to Utah, where he was based, to finish a master's degree. They were friends first, then more. They were married in September, 2009.

She throws a big heavy ball. He runs Ironman-style competitions. To be around them is to feel that sense of union and balance you meet in precious few couples. You know it intuitively when you meet such a couple. They have it.

These last two seasons have been breakthroughs. Coincidence?

Last September, in Zurich, she finished third, throwing 19.5, or 63-11 3/4.

This June in Eugene, she threw 19.76, or 64-10, the best American throw since Ramona Pagel's American record of 20.18, or 66-2 1/2, in San Diego in June 1988.

This summer, competing regularly on the Diamond League circuit, she finished in the top three four times, saying Monday at a late-night news conference that being in the show regularly gave her the confidence to not just think but know that she absolutely belonged in the ring with the other top women in the world.

In Paris on July 8, she equaled Pagel's American record -- 20.18.

Here Monday evening, she threw 19.63, or 64-5, in the first round. That put her into the lead, though she -- and everyone else -- knew it wouldn't last, not with New Zealand's Valerie Adams and Nadzeya Ostapchuk, among others, around.

Her next two throws were considerably shorter. She said later she was just going too fast. In Round 3, meanwhile, Adams went 20.04.

In Round 4, calmer, Jillian threw 20.02, the second-best effort of her career. That launched her into second place.

In that same round, Adams went 20.72. The gold would be hers unless someone came up with something extraordinary.

In Round 5, Ostapchuk heaved the ball 20.05. That put her into second, Jillian into third.

Jillian's final two throws: 18.8 and 19.44.

The exclamation point: In Round 6, Adams went 21.24, or 69-8 1/4, the longest throw outdoors in 11 years, an area record, a personal best and, for good measure the widest winning margin (by 1.19 meters) in the history of the event at the world championships. As well, the gold was Adams' third in a row at the world championships; she won bronze in Helsinki in 2005.

The previous best American effort, meanwhile, came from Connie Price-Smith, who finished fifth in 1997, with a throw of 19.00. Here in Daegu, Connie is the American women's head coach. After Jillian had finished posing for photos and talking to a couple reporters, she walked right over to Connie; they exchanged a knowing glance and then hugged each other, and it was hard to tell who was happier.

When they get back to the States, Jillian and Dustin are going to be moving from Utah down to Tucson, to work with Craig, at the University of Arizona.

"Now that she found him," Craig said, pointing to Dustin, "we had to find him a job!"

Then he said, seriously, mindful that the London Games are 11 months away, and that no one can tear asunder what it is that Dustin and Jillian have together, "If we keep her healthy, a lot of good things will happen."