Tom Walsh in simply smashing form

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2013
TOM WALSH
Fairfax NZ
NEW RECORD: Shot putter Tom Walsh.

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Young New Zealand shot put sensation Tom Walsh vows there's "plenty of room to improve" before the Commonwealth Games following a wonderful few days in the throwing circle.

The 21-year-old builder, who splits his time between hometown Timaru and Christchurch, set a national record of 20.61m in winning the Zatopek Classic meet in Melbourne on Thursday night.

He broke the record for the first time in Geelong the previous Saturday, when he threw 20.45m to break arch-rival Jacko Gill's old mark by 7cm.

Walsh admitted it was "bloody amazing" to put 30cm on his personal best over the two competitions in Victoria.

"To break [the New Zealand record] twice while I was away, I can't complain about that. My comp [in Geelong] felt a lot better than [Thursday] night. I had a lot more throws over the 20m line last weekend.

"But [at the Zatopek], I just managed to catch one and it went a long way.

"I know there's more room to improve. I've got a lot of room to improve in the gym yet. And my technique's not where it should be, as well, but it's looking up."

Athletics New Zealand high-performance director Scott Goodman believes Walsh and Gill, who turns 19 on Friday, have the potential to throw 21m, which would put the pair in medals contention at major meets such as the Commonwealth and Olympic Games and the world championships.

Walsh's strength and conditioning coach, Andrew Maclennan, said of the world's major shot putters, only 23-year-old two-time world champion David Storl, of Germany. had thrown further than Walsh at 21.

"Most of the other guys who went on to throw 22m were only throwing about 20.10, 20.20 or 20.30. It's good that he's ahead of them."

Walsh has improved rapidly during the past six months after throwing 20.09m - breaking the 20m mark for the first time - in Switzerland in July, but missing the qualification standard for the 2013 world championships by a centimetre.

Goodman hailed Walsh's consistency, but Maclennan, who was in Melbourne with him, wasn't surprised at the thrower's progression.

"Not many people knew before we came home from Europe that he had a warmup throw in Europe in July of 20.40m. It wasn't in a competition, it never got measured, no-one knew about it except the people who were there.

"But to come back now and throw 20.50, 20.60, it doesn't totally surprise me, but it's good to get the record and that kind of stuff.

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"He's a lot stronger now and he kind of should be throwing that far, really. If he wasn't, I'd be a little disappointed. Everyone only thinks his best throw was 20.09, which it was in competition, but we all knew he was probably capable of a little more than that."

If Walsh was a racehorse he'd have been swabbed by now, but he quipped that the drug testers "hadn't come knocking yet".

He said it probably won't be too long before he appears on Wada (World Anti-doping Authority) regular testing lists.

But Walsh attributes his improvement to several factors, but said: "Getting my head space right is a big one, and being able to put myself under pressure on big occasions and be able to handle it, as well."

He said "staying injury-free" had also been a blessing.

"I've never had an injury that's stopped me training. If you are always getting injured, you can't get a solid block of training in."

Good timing is also critical. Walsh said his hip thrust was working well and he was "getting a lot more lift in my throws".

"The timing's going so good at the moment."

Consistency, he says, comes from good technique. All his throws in Geelong were over 20.13m, "which I hadn't thrown before until three weeks ago", when he broke the Canterbury centre record with 20.30m.

His confidence is high now he has thrown "three PBs in a row" for the first time in his career.

"It's good for my mental state. I know I can get up and get my head in the right space for competition whether it be one at Rawhiti Domain or one on a big stage like the Zatopek."

He believes he benefits from having a coterie of coaches and advisers. with Maclennan and Timaru's Ian Baird his main mentors. But he also receives help from Australian coach Scott Martin, and Valerie Adams' Swiss master coach Jean-Pierre Egger has also provided valuable tips.

Egger is visiting Queenstown soon so Walsh might tap his brain again. "Another pair of eyes is obviously good."

Spending time training with Adams in Switzerland last winter had been "massively important, just seeing the way that she conducts herself".

"It's just an amazing experience to go and train with a four-time world champion."

Walsh said he had also learnt a lot from throwing against "a few of the big boys" in world shot putting at Diamond League meetings in Europe.

Everything seems to have clicked, he said.

"I've been on a steady increase over the last two to three years ... All the things we've been doing have fallen into place and everything seems to be working well."

Maclennan said Walsh is "a bit more resilient" in the throwing circle now.

"His coping skills are better. In a stressful situation he doesn't get so worked up; he's more relaxed and more calm. John Quinn, the sports psych, has done a great job there. I think now he goes into a competition feeling confident rather than feeling intimidated by other people around him."

Walsh, who weighs 120kg and may look to go up to 125kg, admits he still has a lot more work to do to increase his strength.

"I've probably put 10kg on with most of my lifts in the last six months as well as getting my speed up. Everything's going up at the moment and I've still got a lot of room to move. Jacko benches 220[kg); I bench [press] 190, so you can see the differences."

But shot putters do not peak till their late 20s or early 30s, so Walsh said he could have "another 15 years" to make more gains.

The pressure is off now - he had already qualified for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games next year but his A-standard 20.61m guarantees selection. He can now focus on getting "a solid block of training in".

But he won't be hanging up his hammer and nail pouch. He says building is good for his "man-strength" and his workmates at Mike Greer Homes "keep my feet on the ground".

"I think the building gives me a good balance in life. It takes me away from thinking solely about shot, which I know if I do that I can get a bit stir crazy ... I think I'll continue building but I might take a wee bit more time off [next year] than I have in the past."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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