Johnstone: Big Tom Walsh can be a cult hero

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2014
Tom Walsh
DEAN KOZANIC/ Fairfax NZ
SHOT BRO: Kiwi shot put thrower Tom Walsh finished third at the IAAF's Glasgow competition.

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OPINION: It's early days but Tom Walsh has already laid strong claims to be our man of the year.

Yes, in a summer when the Black Caps shone, we've had a mountain of runs from Ross Taylor and the historic triple century from Brendon McCullum.

But there's something special about the burly shot putter Walsh that already sets him apart.

He'd been on the sporting radar with steady improvement, but a bronze medal at the world indoor athletics champs came out of the blue. That won't be enough to win a Halberg Award, though the Commonwealth Games presents him with a golden opportunity to press his claims there.

But forget his undoubted athletic abilities - with Walsh, it's more about the person that we've quickly come to admire.

This is a genuine Kiwi bloke. There are no frills with the Christchurch builder. He's blue-collar to the bone.

He's not going to lay down his tools in a hurry, believing his trade helps him in many ways.

The physical work benefits his general fitness, the demands of being an employee keep him honest. And, as he says, he simply loves it.

Increasing success in the shot put circle may change that but, for now, Walsh is happy to stick to a formula that is working for him, mixing business with pleasure whichever way he looks at it.

In a sporting scene where egos abound, Walsh remains remarkably grounded.

He's accessible - when Sunday News rang him in Poland to chat about his bronze medal throw, he quickly answered his phone from the depths of a bar where he was having "a few quiet beers" at 1am to celebrate.

He's honest, too - "this beer tastes wonderful".

Good on ya, mate! Subsequent interviews have only confirmed this. He's blown away by what he achieved at the worlds and he's just as proud to have done it for his country as he is for himself.

He spoke openly of his joy at seeing the New Zealand flag raised at the medal ceremony alongside the flags of the United States and Germany.

Heck, in a time when the future of the Kiwi flag is under debate, he even offered his two cents worth, believing the current one should be kept because of all the people who had fought so hard for it in various wars and because greater athletes than him had worked even harder than he had to have it raised at places like the Olympics.

Walsh has the makings of a cult hero. His down-to-earth attitude resonates with the average Kiwi.

In a sporting discipline so old, it's simplicity is it's beauty, we've come to love the shot put mainly through the incredible deeds of Valerie Adams. Now big Tom has doubled our fun.

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And let's not forget boy-wonder Jacko Gill, the age-grade superstar.

But suddenly Gill is under pressure to transfer his talent into the senior ranks and start a rivalry with Walsh that promises to be fascinating.

Yet, as personalities, they appear to be poles apart.

Gill has been a mysterious figure in the past year or two with his prolonged absences. His utterings via social media are reflective of his generation.

Walsh remains "old school". And, to us, that's cool.

- Sunday News

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