Having been a rock star for a day, shot put king Tom Walsh dons the work boots and returns to reality as a builder in Christchurch tomorrow.
But it was great fun while it lasted, and there's more of this rivalry to come in Glasgow in July.
On super Saturday the big boppers flexed, roared, and ruled the national track and field championships in Wellington as the crowds flocked to chilly Newtown Park. Organisers estimated close to 3000, huddling on the grass bank and leaning on fences, shouting for their favourites on a blustery 16 degrees Celsius afternoon.
Walsh reigned again, throwing a New Zealand all comers record of 20.79m and winning his fifth consecutive title while his fresh-faced rival, Jacko Gill, topped the Commonwealth Games qualifying mark with 19.93m. The Auckland teenager's throw would have won him the title in any other year.
An hour earlier, New Zealand shot put queen Valerie Adams barely drew breath in winning her 13th title, throwing her second-best effort for the season of 20.46m. She was more than 5m clear of Te Rina Keenan, then sat down at a desk to satisfy a long queue of autograph hunters.
Walsh was the favourite, having achieved a New Zealand record 21.26m for his world indoor bronze in Poland, then topped 21m again in Melbourne last weekend.
Gill needed 19.75m to achieve the B standard and qualify for Glasgow, and he got there with his second throw which would prove his best. Then it was all Walsh. His third effort, 20.59m, was accompanied by a raised fist and a huge cheer from the masses.
The king wasn't being dislodged from his throne. Gill peeled off his orange jacket but couldn't reach the 20m tape, then Walsh saved his best for last, 20.79m. It was initially red flagged as his foot appeared to touch the stop board, but officials allowed it.
"I've been throwing pretty well over the last month so I was pretty confident I could throw enough to win. But there were always nerves, any time I throw against Jacko is hard work," Walsh said.
Walsh saluted the crowd, shook Gill's hand and the big blokes shared a hug. They'd drawn the crowds, provided a show and 22-year-old Walsh revelled in it.
"Rock stars? We might need a bit of coke and stuff like that to become rock stars," he quipped. "It's good to have the spotlight moved from distance and also to have Val here has helped it a lot. It was awesome to have that many people here." The buzz would ease when the day job beckons. "I'll come back to reality pretty fast. It takes my mind off things and the boys talk a lot of shit at work, it's not about athletics, it's about cars, and girls and everything else."
Walsh was excited for Gill and expected him to be firing and throwing further in Glasgow.
Gill had mixed feelings. In his first major competition of the season he wanted to qualify for Glasgow and top 20m. He did it in a warmup throw, but not in his six actual attempts.
"I have a few problems to sort out in my technique so I'll get back to Kirsten [Hellier, his coach] and we'll make some changes."
His personal best of 20.38m with the senior 7.26kg shot, from December 2011, still stands. The transition has been tough but Gill can now build to Glasgow. He won't forget yesterday in a hurry.
"It was incredible, absolutely amazing having all those people here at a New Zealand athletics meeting," Gill said. He was the only athlete to add to the Glasgow selection mix. High jump champ Sarah Cowley had three unsuccessful tilts at the B standard of 1.88m. Discus champ Tina Hakeai had already qualified but topped the B standard again with 58.77m.
Stuart Farquhar, another already qualified for Glasgow, won his 14th javelin title with 78.16m.
- Sunday Star Times
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