New Zealand's Tom Walsh claims first Diamond League crown with record throw
A bronze in Rio was not to be sniffed at, but Kiwi shot put ace Tom Walsh figured he still had another level in him as he headed to Europe to put the finishing touches on his season.
Boy was he right, with the 24-year-old pride of Timaru rattling off back-to-back Diamond League victories, an historic series crown and two straight PBs to more than demonstrate that his gut feeling was on the money.
Indeed Walsh saved his best for last to finish the Diamond League track and field season in scintillating, record-breaking style in the Swiss city of Zurich on Friday (NZT) as the part-time builder from Christchurch threw further than he's ever thrown in his life.
He won the final, double-points men's shot put competition in Zurich to claim his first ever Diamond League title, and the first won by a New Zealander not named Valerie Adams, pocketing a cool US$50,000 (NZ$69,000) for doing so. It was his third victory of the season, and extended him out to a 16-point margin over nearest rival, American Joe Kovacs.
And the Olympic bronze medallist from Rio made that statement he so desired, obliterating his own New Zealand and Oceania record as he smashed out 22.20 metres with his third-round attempt. It was the second best throw in the world this year, outside of what Ryan Crouser achieved in winning gold in Rio.
That easily surpassed the previous record of 22.00m he managed to win the Paris title just a few days earlier – the first time the part-time builder from Timaru had conquered the 22m mark.
Walsh's victory in Zurich against a who's who field also secured a second straight post-Rio success over American Olympic champion Crouser who once again had to settle for second place with a best throw of 22.00m.
Kovacs, who had to beat Walsh to claim the crown, was third with a best throw of 21.20m.
"Look, there was no doubt I was a little bit disappointed with Rio, but also pretty happy to still go away with a medal after probably not throwing as well as I thought I could throw," Walsh said from Zurich.
"I knew there was a little bit left in the tank and throwing well in Paris was pretty good. I thought I still had 20, 30 or 40cm still to go if I nailed one perfectly, and it felt pretty good this one, that's for sure, as it left the hand.
"I knew I was in pretty good shape to throw that far and I guess the third place gave me a little bit of something to prove, even though it was still very good. I felt like I needed to prove I was a 22-metre guy, rather than a 21.80 guy."
Walsh emphatically showed he's a "22-metre guy" in Zurich as he set up what shapes as an enduring rivalry with the 23-year-old Crouser.
The American, who won in Rio with an Olympic record 22.52m, had taken the early lead with a first-round throw of 21.45m.
But Walsh responded with an impressive series after his first-up 20.73m. He improved to 21.12m in the second round, before nailing that 22.20m monster in the third. He backed that up with 21.25m, 21.07m and finally 21.43m.
Crouser managed 22.00m with his fourth attempt, but could get no closer over the final two rounds, with a no-throw and 21.66m.
Walsh said he knew round three was a good 'un as soon as it left his hand.
"The other five throws were, as I said In Rio, a little bit 'turny-turny'. So that's just turning too much in the circle and not getting all the power through the ball.
"This one felt really full and I got everything through the ball which is what you want. As soon as I let it go I knew it was out there a full way.
"It's a great way to end the Diamond League season, especially throwing two PBs as well. It's a pretty good feeling to win as the American guys have owned the trophy. I'm the first guy outside of North America to win the Diamond League."
Though he still has two more meets to complete his season (in Germany on Saturday, and Croatia soon after) before heading home, Walsh said the sparkling finish to the Diamond League had provided the high point he had been seeking.
"That 22-metre line is just another stepping stone for me for sure," he said.
"I'm definitely setting my goals pretty high. It's good to know that I've done it, and I know that it's there if I'm in this type of shape. It's easier to get there a second time, a third time and a fourth time. It's definitely going the right way."
And with that Walsh headed out to celebrate in time-honoured fashion. He'd earned it.