Two athletes who’ve had breakthrough years are taking very different approaches to 2015 — Tom Walsh will turn professional, while Emma Twigg will study in Europe.

Tom Walsh has made the biggest decision of his fledgling athletics career. He's committed to pursuing shot put in the professional ranks for the next 10-15 years, which will force his employment in the building trade to become sporadic.

As New Zealand sporting revelations go, the 22-year-old's trajectory through the athletics ranks is in the top echelon. From being a relative unknown, he's emerged to defeat every major international shot putter this season, culminating last week in victory at the IAAF World Challenge in Zagreb with a put of 20.69m. Double Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski was 25cm adrift and overall 2014 Diamond League winner Reese Hoffa 33cm back in third.

"The most pleasing aspect was regaining the lead three times from Tomasz. It was awesome knowing when it counted, I could push him.

"If you told me I'd be in this position at the start of the year, I'd have said you were bat-shit crazy. It started with the 21m-plus effort at the world indoor championships [to take bronze], which was my goal before then. To think I'd consistently throw beyond 20.50m was way out there. Fingers crossed this is what I'll be doing every New Zealand winter for the next 10-15 years."


Performing beyond expectations - Walsh has improved 1.93m since June 2012 - and the lure of Olympic glory have been catalysts to his decision but an unexpected ingredient has been the camaraderie.

"It's tough being away from home this long, but it's a necessary evil. I was quite lucky joining up with a lot of American throwers, who are good fun. Ryan Whiting and I travelled on all the same planes across Europe.

"The American boys also started a fantasy NFL league and roped me in. There's lots of trash talking and they've worked on a punishment for the person at the bottom of the table.

"At this stage, it's a top which will have some sort of graffiti drawn on it from everyone in the group. The loser has to get photographed in it at meets next season.

"We often go out for a few beers after a competition and the guys are willing to help with training or technique. It's one of the more friendly [track and field] disciplines. If you go into a dining hall, throwers stick together whereas sprinters are peppered about."

Walsh returns home on September 17 after competing for the Asia-Pacific region at the Continental Cup in Morocco. He's back working as a builder in Christchurch the following Monday. Walsh knows the arrangement needs to be flexible.

"When I take leave, I take unpaid leave. I haven't had an email saying, 'where the hell are ya?' so I guess things are OK," he laughs. "Well, it's either that or they're happy to see me go."

Next year poses further questions around where he'll be based and whether he formalises a coaching arrangement with Val Adams' coach Jean-Pierre Egger in Switzerland - he's used it as a base since June.

"It's all up in the air. At some point I'd like to get back to Switzerland because it's been awesome to have Val and JP around to keep me motivated, especially at this time of year when there are no major championships to spur you on.

"I'd also like to spend some time in the US with the contacts I've developed there and use it as a base before Rio."

The high road
All New Zealand's track and field medallists at the Commonwealth Games were based overseas.

• Gold
Val Adams (shot put) - Magglingen, Switzerland

• Silver
Julia Ratcliffe (hammer throw) - Princeton, United States
Tom Walsh (shot) - Magglingen, Switzerland (since June)

• Bronze
Nick Willis (1500m) - Ann Arbor, United States
Zane Robertson (5000m) - Addis Ababa, Ethiopi