Walsh's partying in Poland no match for medal
Canterbury's latest sporting sensation, shot putter Tom Walsh, was partying in Poland at the weekend but said his "huge buzz" came from winning a world indoor championship bronze medal, "not the alcohol".
The genial builder, who splits his time between Timaru and Christchurch, said producing "the best throw of my life in the biggest competition of my life" in Sopot on Saturday had filled him "with huge confidence" ahead of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July.
Walsh's 21.26m throw to become New Zealand's first male world indoor championship medallist is now ranked number one in the Commonwealth in 2014.
Canada's Dylan Armstrong, the 2010 Commonwealth Games champion, is the only Commonwealth athlete with a better personal best (22.21m) than Walsh. The 2013 world championship bronze medallist did not compete in Sopot.
Walsh, 22, should be a strong medal contender in Glasgow.
But his biggest challenge will come at home when he meets Auckland's junior world champion, Jacko Gill, 19, at the national championships in Auckland, March 28-30.
Walsh, who broke Gill's New Zealand record late last year, finished third in Sopot behind American champion Ryan Whiting, who threw over 22m, and Germany's two-time world champion David Storl.
Walsh pushed Poland's double Olympic champion, Tomasz Majewski, into fourth place.
Double Olympic champion Valerie Adams, who won her third world indoor title yesterday, said Walsh's success was great "for our sport, and for throwing in particular".
She urged track and field fans to watch the Walsh-Gill duel in Wellington, "straight after I've thrown".
"Come down for the throw-down, there's going to be a showdown," she quipped.
Walsh found time to write a blog yesterday on his Sopot experience and revealed he "went out for a few beers" with team coach Jean-Pierre Egger, Athletics New Zealand high performance director Scott Goodman and "a couple of South Africa throwers" on the night of the final.
"I finally took the medal off just before I went to bed for fear I might strangle myself."
He said it was "still so surreal" to consider himself a world championship bronze medallist and Oceania record holder.
"I can't believe I was standing on that podium at the medal ceremony seeing the New Zealand flag raised.
"I expected to see it here in Sopot for Valerie, for Nick Willis, but for me?" Walsh, who said he went to Poland "for the experience", was deluged with media interest after his final and had "15 missed calls" and "hadn't even checked Facebook yet". But he spoke to his parents, Peter and Karen, in Timaru.
"My mum said she was so overcome with emotion she cried while my dad was at loss for words ... "
Walsh said that while he spent 10 days putting "the gloss on" in Switzerland with Adams and Egger, the "vast majority of the hard work" was put in with longtime South Canterbury coach Ian Baird and Christchurch-based strength and conditioning coach Andrew Maclennan.
Walsh went to Sopot for his first indoor meet feeling confident after throwing 20.80m in training.
"I knew, if everything clicked, I could achieve 21m."
Walsh was "a lot more nervous and edgy" in the qualification session on Friday night but qualified for the final with a 20.14m final throw. "I felt far more relaxed in the final because I had nothing to lose."
He got instant encouragement when he put the shot out to 21m on his first attempt, even though it was a no-throw because he got "a bit lazy and placed my foot on top of the stop board".
He got his first valid throw, 20.12m, in the third round but moved up to 20.88m in round five to be fifth overall.
"I wasn't sure when my final throw landed whether it was good enough for bronze," Walsh said.
"Thankfully, it was and once the distance flashed up that I'd thrown 21.26m ... I couldn't quite believe it." The Kiwi still had a nervous wait while Majewski had his final throw.
But the hometown favourite's effort fell short at 20.77m.