Timaru's Tom the Builder – he can heave it
Shot put star Tom Walsh's two key coaches are convinced his day job as a builder helped him win a bronze medal at the world indoor championships.
Ian Baird, a long serving South Canterbury athletics coach, and strength and conditioning expert Andrew Maclennan both hope Walsh continues to combine his athletics training with work on a building site.
The 22-year-old became the first New Zealand male to win a world indoor championships medal when he threw a personal best 21.26m in Sopot, Poland, last weekend. Walsh is now rated a strong medal contender for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in July.
The pressure may go on him to train fulltime in the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, but his handlers hope he can continue carpentry for the foreseeable future.
Baird, who has coached Walsh since 2008, believed his young charge's meteoric rise over the past year to New Zealand record holder status and Commonwealth Games title contender was due, in some measure, to the fact "he's a working man".
"That helps keep his body in working shape. This performance, as much as anything, has come about because he's really started to get some mature strength, which is something you don't always get with elite athletes. We've got a lot of rugby players who would be better off working on farms."
Baird said weight room training was beneficial but was of "quite high intensity" compared with "the daily slog of eight hours' physical labour".
"That's the sort of baseline strength that's very desirable for a shot putter."
The bronze medal was the culmination of "what he has been doing for two or three years", including building, Baird said. "It's done no harm and it may even have been the cause of why he's progressed to the point he has, so why change?"
Walsh divides his time between his home town of Timaru and Christchurch where he has a building apprenticeship with Mike Greer Homes.
He routinely works Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as a builder and trains in Christchurch as well, and then returns to Timaru from Thursday to Sunday.
Maclennan said Walsh's physical job meant he got "a big rebound effect" when he trained and competed overseas because he was not working on the building site and was fresher.
He believed Walsh should stick with building for as long as he can.
"When he's at work, he's carrying a big physical load and then he goes to the gym after that for a couple of hours.
"A lot of builders lose weight because they burn through the calories. We are trying to keep Tom's body weight high, above 120kg. I think we've got it right in terms of the amount of food he's consuming."
Baird would like to see Walsh complete his apprenticeship "because I think he owes that to his employer", but he believed there was another benefit.
"His workmates will make sure his hat size doesn't grow too much. They'll keep his feet on the ground."
But Baird said Walsh would not have a problem in that regard because he was very level-headed.
"His greatest asset is his ability to work. That's the key talent that any sportsperson requires, the capacity to flog his guts out. If you can't do that you may as well give it up; that's the case for any high achiever."
Maclennan also praised Walsh's work ethic and said while the shot putter may have been partying in Poland to celebrate his success, he was actually "a very disciplined guy".
Both coaches were thrilled but not entirely surprised at Walsh's performance in Sopot. They followed his progress on live internet streaming.
Baird didn't expect Walsh to win a bronze medal but wasn't surprised when he threw over 21m. "He'll throw further, eventually."
Maclennan knew Walsh was set for a good performance after watching him throw 20.40m in the qualification phase. "You can normally expect to increase that distance by 40 to 50 centimetres in the afternoon session because testosterone is higher in the afternoon and you're more ready."
So Maclennan expected Walsh to throw "at least 20.80m" in the final.
"When he got to 20.88 in round five, I was pretty pumped because that would have been an excellent achievement at his first major international meet. When he got to 21.26 in round six, that was just crazy."
Beating Poland's double Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski, who finished fourth, was "a major scalp", Maclennan said.
Christchurch physiotherapist Vanessa Trent was the other backroom hero, Maclennan said. "She's an outstanding physio, world class and has had a major role in terms of keeping Tom healthy."