Athletics: Walsh nails record year

By David Leggat

Olympic medallist is back at work on a building site and already eyeing new goals, writes David Leggat.
Bronze at the Rio Olympics marked the start of a stellar three weeks for Tom Walsh, culminating in a Diamond League title. Photo / Getty Images
Bronze at the Rio Olympics marked the start of a stellar three weeks for Tom Walsh, culminating in a Diamond League title. Photo / Getty Images

Tom Walsh will strap on his toolkit in Christchurch tomorrow and get back to proper work - and the champion shot putter wouldn't have it any other way.

He'll be on a building site, no doubt getting some gyp from his workmates and told to make the tea for the group, and he'll be in his element. In that environment, there is no chance of getting ahead of himself.

"Being a normal guy, working for a living," as the Olympic bronze medal-winning shot putter said.

He's taking about six weeks off to enjoy being back home, "play a bit of golf, have a few beers and catch-up dinners. It's good to be back".

The 24-year-old has had a stellar year, going back to winning the world indoor title in Oregon in March. Setting aside the Olympic success in Rio, Walsh also won the overall title as the most consistent shot putter in the Diamond League and was never out of the top three this year.

In three successive events, he eclipsed his personal best mark - and, yes, you can safely assume that doubles as the national record - and is at the forefront of a new wave of athletes who look set for some spectacular duels in the years to come.

"It's been amazing, a crazy few weeks, and the only thing I could have wished to have done a bit better was at the Olympics," Walsh said. "Maybe a better coloured medal," then a pause, followed by "but mate, it's a pretty cool colour to have as well."

Walsh shoved one of his puts in Rio a huge distance, only for it to be ruled a foul after he stepped over the front of the circle. His face told the story. He knew it was a top effort.

In the end, American Ryan Crouser won gold with an Olympic-record 22.52m, with compatriot Joe Kovacs taking silver with 21.78m and Walsh's 21.36m earning bronze.

From there, rather than leaving things on a memorable note, Walsh went on a tear, winning Diamond League events in Paris and Zurich then the Zagreb World Challenge last week to round off a year to savour.

"I'm really proud of myself," he said. "I've taken a lot out of that, being able to refocus.

"[After Rio] I could quite easily have switched off and thought, 'stuff it, that's my year done'. But I'm really proud I came out and threw well at all my comps and I'm really happy with the final result at all of them."

Winning the Diamond League title was a good way to put whatever disappointment he felt over Rio behind him.

Walsh was in the top three at all his meets this year - "and only third once, so that's not too bad a year at all," he quipped.

Tom Walsh likes his building job.
Tom Walsh likes his building job.

"I got to string together six or seven really good comps. I got lucky at a few and no one turned up at one or two, but to win the last two was really impressive to me, and really hard to do. Hell of a year, mate."

Consider Walsh's age, then factor in that Crouser is 23 and Kovacs, last year's world champion, is 27. There's some cracking competition ahead in the discipline and Walsh knows motivation will be easy for him.

"Look, you come down to training for a week and you'll know I'm a competitive bugger, whether it's shooting hoops, throwing a Frisbee - I don't want to lose, no matter what I'm doing. It drives some people up the wall but that's one of my things."

There's no shortage of challenges for Walsh once next year begins.

Here's two: he wants to complete a year unbeaten - "maybe not next year but it's one of those things to work towards" - and tilt for the world record.

That mark stands at 23.12m, set by American Randy Barnes in 1990. Barnes was banned for 27 months later that year for a doping violation, then for life when he failed testing again in 1998, two years after winning the Olympic gold.

"That's got a bit of dust on it," Walsh said of the world mark. "It needs a bit of cleaning, and that is definitely one we're working towards."

Walsh recognises this is an important time for New Zealand athletics and being part of a four-medal winning group in Rio left him chuffed.

Val Adams won the women's shot put silver, Nick Willis his second Olympic medal, bronze in the 1500m, and 19-year-old Eliza McCartney, a thrilling bronze in the pole vault.

"What Val's done through her whole career is amazing. The 1500m is a tough event and for Nick to have two Olympic medals and a few others is pretty impressive. And what Eliza's done is scary. She's one hell of an athlete."

So, too, is Walsh. The future for athletics is rosy. How Athletics New Zealand capitalise on the Rio success and develop the sport will be crucial in the next four years leading up to the Tokyo Olympics.

With due respect to Adams and Willis and their outstanding contribution, it is the young thrusters Walsh and McCartney who have a particularly significant part to play in that development.

- NZ Herald

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