Walsh not carried away ahead of Glasgow
For a man who throws a steel ball a long way through the air, Tom Walsh is remarkably grounded. The Sunday Star-Times talks to the unlikely star of the Kiwi track and field team heading to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Tom Walsh is one of those guys it's hard not to root for. There's no Lycra, no flash sunglasses, no airs or graces and no ego.
He jumps out of his ute with his name and sponsors written on the side with a, "Heya champ, how's it?"
A big handshake and a bigger smile follow.
That big smile, a quick joke about the size of the car your correspondent arrived in and his let's-do-this attitude and there's an ease about the whole situation.
It's not always like that - an interview can often be like a slow dance between the unwilling.
Walsh is quickly becoming a shot put star. Especially in New Zealand where he's following the well worn path of Valerie Adams, one of the sport's best ever.
He's the current New Zealand record holder (21.26 metres), he's a five-time New Zealand champion and the only Kiwi male to win a medal at the World Indoor Track and Field Championships.
And he's only 22.
He still works a few days a week as an apprentice builder, still trains at a little suburban setup in Christchurch's earthquake-battered east - he doesn't have a lot of choice as there aren't many suitable locations in the Garden City - and he still acts like one of the boys.
"I'm still me aren't I? You don't change because you throw a shot a bit further than you used to. Well, you shouldn't," he says.
He throws it a lot further now too and has proved his down-to-earth nature is an asset on the big stage. At last year's world indoor champs in Poland, the builder from Timaru via Christchurch, who could easily pass as a muscular front-rower on a rugby field, announced himself on the global stage.
Ranked 17th, Walsh qualified for the final in sixth, moved up to fifth with a New Zealand record 20.88m then knocked double Olympic champion Tomas Majewski out of third with his final throw, a huge 21.26m.
There is an air of confidence about Walsh now too ahead of this month's Commonwealth Games, though it's wrapped in modesty.
"So I just came off a really heavy training block and things are shaping up well for the Games. I try not to think too much about medals and outcomes, but things are shaping up well I think.
"My technique is consistent and I've been throwing really well, even though I was in a heavy phase."
Before he left New Zealand in late May he said he "expects some fireworks" from his numbers before the Games.
And it's been happening; Walsh is humming at the Swiss base where he is training with Adams.
"Doing well at the Games means a lot to me. There's a real following of the Games back here and I remember watching them when I was younger. Being part of that wider New Zealand team will be exciting too and hopefully contributing to the medal tally.
"I'd obviously love the top [medal], but I'd be pretty happy with any medal."
Walsh heads to Glasgow for a Diamond League event next weekend, then east to compete in the Czech Republic before joining the New Zealand track and field team in Cardiff.
He'll compete in his first Commonwealth Games, as one of the favourites. He's ranked No 8 in the world, but second in the Commonwealth behind defending Games champion and record holder Dylan Armstrong who is not listed in the initial Canadian team and hasn't thrown competitively this year.
Of those Commonwealth athletes that have, Walsh has the best outdoor throw, a 21.16m effort in Melbourne.
Jamaican O'Dayne Richards is next just 5cm behind him, while Armstrong's countryman Tim Nedow is next with 20.98m. Walsh's Kiwi rival Jacko Gill is next thanks to his recent 20.70m effort in Rarotonga.
Walsh might be an early favourite, but he's still just a modest chippy, rapt that he gets to represent New Zealand and do what he loves on the world stage.
"It'll be pretty tough, there's going to be some good throwers there. I'll just do my best and hopefully get to come home with a medal."
- Sunday Star Times
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