Laulauga Tausaga-Collins can say she’s the best in the world at the discus.

Her shocking gold medal at 2023 Worlds in Budapest cemented that status.

On a muggy night in Budapest, Tausaga-Collins, 25, stunned the field — and herself — with a personal-best throw of 69.49 meters. That made her the first-ever U.S. woman to win a discus world title.

Tausaga-Collins called the moment “divine,” “surreal” and “a miracle.”

Moments after her monster throw, Tausaga-Collins placed her hands in front of her mouth. She screamed. She cried. All she could say was, “Oh my gosh” on repeat.

She embraced her coach, John Dagata. NBC broadcaster Leigh Diffey proclaimed that “they’ll be dancing in the streets” in her hometown of Spring Valley, California.

Realistically, with the stats on paper, I wasn’t supposed to win.

Her coach agrees. "Lagi's performance in 2023 was one of the biggest shocks I've ever seen in track and field," Dagata says. "That was something for the ages."

The only stat that matters now is this: Tausaga-Collins is the world discus champion, the best in the world.

But she maintains that throwing the discus isn’t her number-one skill.

“I can recite all the dialogue from the first ‘Twilight’ movie,” Tausaga-Collins told NBC Olympics. “I’m an absolute expert. I would be a millionaire if they could pay me to recite the entire movie.”

Amid her childhood as a self-described “awkward” homebody, Tausaga-Collins’ older sister introduced her to the Twilight series. It changed her life.

“I remember being like, ‘Oh em gee, vampires?’” Tausaga-Collins says. “I was so obsessed. I read the books over and over again. I watched the movies as soon as I could. To this day, my family won’t watch with me. If I could see Robert Pattinson in real life, I think I just might die on the day.”

The “Twilight” obsession was born during the first phase of Tausaga-Collins’ life in suburban San Diego. During those first 15 years, she stayed home, sheltered in her comfort zone. The future world champion didn’t play a single sport, despite a robust athletic background in her large family.

Her three older siblings even represented American Samoa at the Junior Olympics. But Tausaga-Collins was happy to stay home and read.

“I couldn’t get into [sports],” Tausaga-Collins remembers. “My mom pushed me to try things, and I kept saying, ‘no.’”

Slow start

As her daughter, Laulauga, started up at Mount Miguel High School, Aveaomalo Tausaga was losing patience.

“It’s time,” she told her daughter. “I’m worried for you. You’re in the house all day. We’re going to expand your horizons.”

Tausaga-Collins was defensive at first. “I was like, ‘I’m not doing drugs!’” she says now. “But I figured it was time for me to get up and experience the world on my own.”

So, she tried volleyball. “I was absolutely miserable,” she recalls. It was too much running for her taste. After practices, Tausaga-Collins’ new volleyball teammates would stand and gleefully chitchat as they waited for their rides home.

But Tausaga-Collins would sit on the side — alone, elbows on knees, backpack slung over her shoulder. When her mom would arrive for pickup, she’d ask her daughter how practice had gone.

“I’d be like, ‘Don’t you dare talk to me,’” Tausaga-Collins remembers. “I’d tell her, ‘They made me run. They made me do teamwork. They made me call out numbers. It was terrible.’”

Tausaga-Collins was in suboptimal cardiovascular shape, to say the least. And coaches wanted her to change that, stat. But she was over volleyball. So basketball was next.

“There was so much running,” Tausaga-Collins recalls. At basketball practice, her coaches would yell, “Get on the line!” when the team messed up. That meant sprints — dozens of sprints.

“I still have PTSD from that,” Tausaga-Collins remembers. “I was like, ‘They’re gonna make us run until we can’t breathe.’”

One day after a particularly exhausting basketball practice, Tausaga-Collins’ coach pulled her aside. He told her that she possessed athletic potential. But, he emphasized, she needed to do more cardio — much more. He suggested that she try the track and field team.

“I went home and thought, ‘Everyone must have lost their mind,’” Tausaga-Collins says. But as she did with the other sports, Tausaga-Collins gave track and field a try.

“I’m absolutely thankful for it,” the world champion says now.

But a decade ago, at age 15, she remained “miserable.” She showed up to her first practice, and the misery on her face was obvious. The track and field coach took one look at her, slumped shoulders and all. He could tell she had no interest in running.

“Do you know what a shot put is?” he asked her.

Tausaga-Collins had no idea.

“You just throw a heavy metal ball. You don’t have to run.”

She was sold. “I said, ‘Excuse me? OK, this might be the thing for me,’” she remembers.

Tausaga-Collins suddenly had a new mission.

Let the adventure begin

Tausaga-Collins felt empowered.

“Everybody loves to be good at something,” she says. “I absolutely loved being good at the shot.”

“Good” sells Tausaga-Collins short. She was historically excellent.

Over the next four years, she earned two all-state honors and won four conference championships. She picked up the discus to pair with her shot put greatness. The one-time sports-avoider was named Mount Miguel’s female athlete of the year twice.

That earned Tausaga-Collins a scholarship to compete at the NCAA Division I level. After graduation, she was bound for Iowa City, Iowa to become an Iowa Hawkeye.

Wait, Iowa?

“Everybody always asks me that,” she says. How does a girl who was born in Honolulu and raised in Southern California end up in Iowa?

“I absolutely love Iowa,” Tausaga-Collins says. “I love the Midwest.”

When she first visited the state, Tausaga-Collins was still confusing Iowa and Idaho. She had never seen snow fall from the sky. Her mom erroneously referred to the team as the “Iowa Buckeyes.”

“I was really scared at first, because I was so close to my family,” Tausaga-Collins remembers.  During her visit, Tausaga-Collins learned all about Midwest hospitality. She played board games with her future teammates.

“These were small-town kids I was sitting next to,” Tausaga-Collins says. “I was like, ‘This is nice.’ Everyone was so accommodating and sweet, and it never stopped.”

So Tausaga-Collins took a leap and signed with Iowa. She’s glad she did. As a Hawkeye, she won the 2019 NCAA discus title and was selected to eight All-American teams. She set five school records. She was named Big Ten Indoor Female Field Athlete of the Year in 2020.

Tausaga-Collins left Iowa a legend. Next, it was time for the real world.

Reality check

Tausaga-Collins was fed up with herself.

“I was showing up to practice defeated,” she recalls.

It was the spring of 2023. Tausaga-Collins was training to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, the second crown jewel track and field event, trailing just the Olympic Games.

She was hitting serious roadblocks. In February, Tausaga-Collins was hit with gout, which interrupted her training schedule. Her mental health suffered, too. She was already working to recover from her frustrating 24th-place finish at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, a performance that left her “in shock.”

But there were recent triumphs, too. She placed second at USA Outdoors in 2022 and won the North American, Central American and Caribbean Championships later that year.

Her college coach, Eric Werskey, once told her she could be one of the best in the world. But in the spring of 2023, Tausaga-Collins felt defeated.

“I was saying, ‘No! No, I don’t wanna keep doing this. I’m humiliating myself,’” she remembers. “So I started my journey with mental health. I hunkered down."

I love the sport, but it can psychologically hurt you. I learned that you need to be fortified in the mind.

Tausaga-Collins and Dagata, who has coached her since 2021, broke her down. They pored through her shortcomings. They made adjustments to her technique. They worked maniacally on bite-sized improvements.

"It just took off," Dagata recalls. "She looked ferocious." Within weeks, Tausaga-Collins had revolutionized herself. She was in peak mental and physical shape.

“It was like picking up all the pieces, placing them back together and giving it a good spit shine,” Tausaga-Collins says.

She qualified for Worlds with no issue. When she and Dagata arrived in Budapest, her coach noticed something.

“You look different,” he told her. “I feel different,” Tausaga-Collins replied.

She felt like she could surprise everyone. But Tausaga-Collins wasn’t even on the medal radar. Most World Championships previews either ignored her completely or listed her under “others to watch” headings.

Tausaga-Collins was set to compete with reigning Olympic champion and fellow American Valarie Allman, Croatian legend Sandra Perkovic Elkasevic, China’s Bin Feng, who had won the 2022 world title, and more.

On her fifth throw of the finals that August night in Budapest, Tausaga-Collins wound up and hurled the discus as hard as she could.

“I just felt this monster throw,” Tausaga-Collins remembers.

Out in the stands, Dagata stood up on the balcony to read the distance.

"At first, I couldn't read it, but I knew it was far," he remembers. "The way she attacked it, it was a perfect situation."

Seconds later, the videoboard displayed Tausaga-Collins' distance: 69.49 meters, edging Allman by .26 meters and making her the world champion.

"It was special to see everything just hit like we knew it could," Dagata says. "I wish every coach could get the feeling of having someone as talented and eager as Lagi."

The “world champion” title is a life-changer, but it doesn’t guarantee Tausaga-Collins much else.

“I laugh when people ask me what my goals are for Paris,” she affirms. “In track and field, you have to be in the top three on the day of Trials. My goals are just to get to Trials and then, to make it onto that podium. After that, we can move on.”

If she does reach the podium at U.S. Trials in June, Tausaga-Collins will be bound for her first Olympic Games in Paris. There, she’s ready to carry the torch for a growing crop of American women in the throwing events.

“I’m excited to say that I’m now one of the trailblazers,” Tausaga-Collins says. “We’re a triple threat in the shot, the hammer and the discus."

The Americans are here. We’re large and in charge.