Olympic bronze medallist and IAAF Diamond League champion Tom Walsh is relishing the prospect of featuring in a pair of world-class shot put competitions in New Zealand later this month. Here the seven times NZ shot put champion chats to Steve Landells about what to expect from the top-quality events.
As a measure of the sheer class on display in the shot circle at both the Mike Greer Homes Big Shot event in Christchurch and at the Auckland Track Challenge later this month, Tom Walsh insists the quality is on par with many of the leading European events - and it is hard to disagree.
Besides the presence of Walsh, the opposition is formidable led by America's 2.01m tall Olympic champion Ryan Crouser and his countryman two-time World Indoor champion Ryan Whiting - who makes a welcome return to these shores after competing in both events back in 2015.
Further bolstering the strength of the field is New Zealand's in-form Jacko Gill, who last month posted an impressive lifetime best of 21.01m, and Australia's Rio Olympic finalist Damien Birkinhead, who boasts a PB of 21.21m.
"To get both Ryan Crouser and Ryan Whiting down here to compete is pretty special", says Walsh, who says his team were particularly persuasive to attract the Olympic champion to New Zealand.
"The first time I competed against Ryan Crouser was at the 2009 World U18 Championships and he won the competition by more than two metres, so he is a class performer," says Walsh. "Anyone who can throw over 22m is an outstanding athlete and last year he achieved it six times (including a best of 22.52m in Rio to climb to equal tenth on the all-time lists).
"Not many people win an Olympic title at their first attempt. He will be down here and throwing well, that's for sure."
Yet Tom knows the Olympic gold medallist will not be the only athlete to watch out for in the red-hot competitions in Christchurch and Auckland.
"Ryan Whiting has had a tough couple of years through injury, but before that he was pretty much the best guy in the world along with David Storl (of Germany) and he'll be wanting to perform," adds Tom." Jacko is also throwing really well, and with Damian in the mix too, it is going to be tough. But I don't do sport because it is easy, and I never want to lose on home turf."
Yet despite the obvious competitive rivalry between the throwers outside of the circle they are great mates with Tom, the two US throwers and Birkinhead taking a little rest and relaxation time hunting and fishing between the Christchurch and Auckland events.
Crouser, in particular, is a keen enthusiast of both pursuits, and is believed to have been a key factor in why he has decided to fly from his base in San Diego to spend time in New Zealand.
Since returning to training under the guidance of coach, Dale Stevenson, Tom has changed little from the previous year. He insists there is always room for improvement in terms of strength and explosiveness, however, one surprising training innovation has been the introduction of gymnastics sessions into his programme to improve body awareness.
"If you've ever seen a 120kg man do handstands and backwards rolls you would understand I'm not a natural and it is pretty hard work," he says. "I can do the forward roll and the handstand and other bits and pieces, but above all else it is fun to mix it up. If all you do is go to the gym four times a week for 15 years, it would get pretty boring,"
Another interesting training tool Tom - who celebrates his 25th birthday on March 1 - has introduced over the past year or so a is balancing on a slackline to further increase body awareness - a training method he adopted from Germany's Olympic javelin champion Thomas Rohler.
In preparation for his appearance in the Mike Greer Homes Big Shot and at Auckland Track Challenge, Tom intends to warm up with his first outing of the year on Saturday at Porritt Classic in Hamilton. He then plans on concluding his domestic campaign at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hamilton in mid-March before turning his thoughts to the European season in preparation for the IAAF World Championships in London in August.
Yet before then he is relishing the thought of competing in a pair of world-class competitions in his homeland and he would encourage everyone to come along and enjoy the spectacle.
"This is a great chance to see world-class athletes perform up, close and personal at both the Mike Greer Homes Big Shot and the Auckland Track Challenge," says Tom, who tonight attends the Halberg Awards at Auckland's Vector Arena as one finalist in the High Performance Sport Sportsman of the Year category alongside Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Nick Wills.
"These two competitions are a great opportunity to further publicise the sport after the great success athletics enjoyed last year," he adds.