Gifford: Loner versus one of the boys in rivalry

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 05:00 30/03/2014
valerie adams, tom walsh, jacko gill
SHOT PUT GLORY: Shot putters Val Adams, Tom Walsh, bottom left, and Jacko Gill.

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OPINION: The Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill rivalry has everything. Town versus country. Old school versus 21st century techno. Teenage prodigy versus maturing talent. Loner versus one of the boys.

Yesterday at the national championships in Wellington Walsh won, throwing 20.59m, while Gill was second on 19.93m. Walsh had already qualified for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and now Gill, topping the B qualifying standard of 19.75m, should be there too.

Remarkably both could be on the rostrum. Only one Commonwealth athlete, Canada's Dylan Armstrong, topped 20 metres at the world championships last year.

Apart from ability, all the two Kiwi throwers have in common is that their fathers, Peter Walsh and Walter Gill were throwers too. Walter was a senior shot and discus champion, Peter a junior shot champion.

Out of the Timaru corner comes Walsh, who when he's not training throws on the builder's belt and works as a carpenter. He came down to earth fast after he'd won bronze at the world indoor championships three weeks ago. Why? "The boys in the (building) gang gave me some s..."

In an interview after the world indoors he said "I think you don't need to go into the weight room until you're at least 18. From what I've seen I think that's where a lot of injuries start, when you get into the heavy weights too early."

From Devonport, a seaside suburb in Auckland, comes Gill who's been writing his weight programmes for himself since he was 10. Let me say that again, since he was 10.

He's the mystery man of New Zealand track and field, famous for sometimes working out at his home gym in the middle of the night, then posting videos on YouTube of the massive weights he's throwing around.

He doesn't train with other athletes. In an IAAF website interview last year he said, "Mum's the one who comes to every training session, and has thrown the shot put back for me every single throw I've done since I was 12 years old."

Just to add to the intrigue, last week his father Walter, one of the world's sunniest natured men (the slogan of the concrete company he owns with round the world yachtsman Simon Gundry is "We may be rough but at least we're slow") said Jacko was nursing an injury. He was promptly corrected, on Twitter of course, by Jacko, who claimed he hadn't had an injury for a year.

In the junior ranks Gill, who at 20 is almost exactly two years younger than Walsh, always had the drop, but with maturity Walsh is now very much a world class athlete.

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As fascinated as anyone by the rivalry is the great Valerie Adams, who won her 13th national title throwing a superb 20.46m.

With little fanfare over the fact, Adams returns at her own cost from her training base in Switzerland to compete at nationals, often, as she jokes, in front of a crowd so small her family members outnumber the fans. Since 2001 she's only missed the 2012 nationals, and that was because the dates were a direct clash with the world indoors in Turkey.

Anything that boosts the standing of throwing in Kiwi eyes will get her support, and if she's not fortunate enough to have a red hot rival at home, she loves the fact Walsh and Gill could be a long running shot double act.

The last time things were this hot in the throwing circle in New Zealand was over 40 years ago when Les Mills and Robin Tait were throwing the shot and discus.

Both would win Commonwealth Games gold medals, and the fascinating bonus was a massive contrast in personal style.

How great a contrast? On one memorable day in Edinburgh at the 1970 Commonwealth Games Mills graciously welcomed the media as the sober, trusted captain of the New Zealand team. Tait invited himself to the function, and promptly told a small group of spellbound hacks how his steroid use had shrunk his genitalia so much he was now "a 20-stone bombshell with a two-inch fuse".

Walsh says he hopes the contests with Gill will carry on for the next 10 years. As he notes, "We're both young guys." This story may only be at the start of the first chapter.

- Sunday Star Times

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