New Zealand shot put is on target for Commonwealth and perhaps even Olympic domination with Tom Walsh emerging as a genuine world-class talent in Poland yesterday.
Obliterating his career best with a throw of 21.26m and a surprise bronze medal at the world indoor championships, the Christchurch 22-year-old, who has no commercial sponsor and whose fulltime job is on a building site, introduced himself dramatically to world track and field's elite.
Fifth overall with one throw left in the final, Walsh saved his best for last to be beaten only by American champion Ryan Whiting and German Olympic silver medallist and two-time world champion David Storl - suddenly positioning him as a genuine Olympic medal shot two years out from the 2016 Rio Games.
Canadian Dylan Armstrong was the only established international absentee from yesterday's world final, whose personal best is five centimetres shorter than Walsh's best effort last night.
Regardless, the Kiwi is now also the number-one rank for gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in four months (having surpassed Armstrong's 2010 golden mark of 21.02m) and firing New Zealand into a position where Commonwealth gold could be secured in both the men's and women's shot put.
For four years South Auckland's double Olympic champion Valerie Adams has completely dominated the global women's scene and now Walsh is making a play to put New Zealand on top of the men's pile too.
Struggling to absorb the significance of what he'd achieved last night, in true working-class style Walsh was still up celebrating at 1am.
"I'm in the bar having a few beers with Scotty [Goodman, Athletics NZ high performance director] and a couple of the South African guys. Yeah . . . I still can't really believe it to be honest, mate. But this beer tastes wonderful," Walsh told the Sunday Star-Times from Sopot, Poland.
"It's an interesting one. I never thought I'd throw 21.26m today. I knew I was throwing well in training, but to pull that out on the day, and especially in the sixth round as well, I'm extremely proud of myself."
Both straight-talking and salt-of-the-Earth, Walsh and Adams' similarities go further than just their abilities in the throwing circle.
In the immediate run-in to the meet in Poland, Adams and her coach, Jean-Pierre Egger, had invited Walsh to spend a couple of weeks training and preparing with them in Magglingen - Adams and Egger's well-established training base in the Swiss Alps.
Coincidentally, when Adams first trialled with Egger, an extremely well-respected strength training specialist, a short stint produced instant results. In 2010, Adams, whose competitive best is now 21.24m, was battling to hit the 20m mark. But in 10 days she saw significant results, producing four throws over 20m and one of 20.86m in the Diamond League.
Walsh says time with Adams, who he "gets on with like a house on fire" and Egger has no doubt helped, though he has no plans to make any immediate, long-term changes.
"It's not very often you get to go to Switzerland and train with an Olympic champion. I've had some help from Val on techniques and also on the mental side," he said.
"JP has been someone to watch me throw, not necessarily change my technique, but someone to tell what I'm working on. He's been able to say, whether I've been doing that right or wrong, or if my footwork was a bit slow.
"I work in Christchurch as a builder, I'm lucky with my boss who allows me enough time as I need to compete internationally.
I think I'll keep doing that for the time being. I think it's good for my mental space and in terms of keeping me grounded."
Walsh's form also adds a fascinating twist to his rivalry with fellow New Zealander and world junior champion Jacko Gill - who has been missing from the scene recently with injury.
And with Gill's management staunchly committing him to return to competition against Walsh at the national championships in Wellington this month, Gill suddenly finds himself the underdog but, if he can also find form, there could even be a third black track suit on Glasgow's shot put podiums.
- Sunday Star Times
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