The Herald continues its series on 12 Kiwi athletes or teams to keep an eye on at the Games - whether for their medal potential, rapid global rise, or captivating road to Tokyo. This is the story of Rio medallist Tom Walsh.
Part I: Jack Lopas
Part II: George Bennett
Part III: Ella Williams
Part IV: Emma Twigg
Part V: David Nyika
Part VI: Peter Burling and Blair Tuke
Part VII: Dame Valerie Adams
Part VIII: Lisa Carrington
Part IX: Jaime Nielsen
Part X: Sam Tanner
Part XI: David Liti
Overseas competition to counter a disappointing domestic season has replenished New Zealand shot-putter Tom Walsh, and he heads into today's Olympic final in Tokyo feeling in the best shape he's been in recent years.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2017 World champion today looks to better his bronze medal at the Rio Olympics five years ago, where he was beaten by Ryan Crouser (gold) and Joe Kovacs (silver), both of the USA.
In the lead-up to Tokyo, Walsh has been ticking off competition after competition – eight in total – in the United States and Europe, with a desire to compete against "bigger guys". It looks to have dividends, with Walsh registering throws of 22.22m and 22m in Hungary and Nashville respectively within the last two months – his best heaves since recording a personal best 22.90m at the 2019 Athletics World Championships.
"The type of shape I'm in now is top-class… world class. [I'm] where I need to be right now at just the right time," Walsh told the Herald.
"[But] I've got to take care of all the mental sides, got to conserve my mental energy and not worry about other people, make sure I'm doing my mindfulness, doing my breathing stuff. Aware of my thoughts… not worrying too much about the outcome.
"What I can control is how I conduct myself on a day-to-day basis and also the things I can think about in the circle and the things I can think about outside the circle, and that's kind of where I'm putting my energy at the moment."
2021 didn't start so well for the South Islander, finishing second to fellow New Zealander Jacko Gill – world number 13 – in three consecutive domestic competitions at the backend of the New Zealand summer – events he typically enters as the hot favourite.
"I was quite pushy, I was quite forced, I was quite tense and historically, I don't throw well that way and I still don't throw well that way. Sometimes it just takes you a while to figure that out, and it took me a little bit longer than I'd honestly like to admit," Walsh says.
The World Champs two years ago marked the last time Walsh was engaged with Crouser and Kovacs in a major competition. All three occupied the podium as they did in Rio, but this time it was the slimmest of margins – one centre metre to be exact – that separated first (Kovacs) from third (Walsh).
The Kiwi knows the two Americans are his closest rivals at this year's Olympics, being the only athletes ranked higher than him globally that are attending. But he's not about to lose sleep over what his opponents are doing to prepare.
"I can't affect what they do, I've learnt over my many years that when I try and affect what someone else does it doesn't work out well for me.
"I've got to try and just take care of myself, if I'm in 23-metre shape then that's all good and someone's in 23.50 shape or 22.50 shape then I'm not going to affect them either way. Especially Ryan and Joe, they will throw what they're worth so whatever I do, I just got to look after myself, because I know for a fact they're going to look after themselves."
In June, Crouser justified his status as world number one, smashing the outdoor world record with a mark of 23.37m – 25 cm better than the previous record that stood for 31 years. The Portland native has also won the two meets he and Walsh both competed in this year.
"He [Crouser] is hot favourite to win, it would be terrible if someone else won wouldn't it," Walsh jokes.
In the meantime, Walsh is aiming to keep things simple, particularly from a mental perspective.
"My coach Dale Stevenson always says you can't win the Olympics in the last two or three weeks but you sure as hell can lose it. What he means by that is just overthinking things over training, over analysing, trying too hard that stuff," he says.
"[I'm] just trying to keep mentally fresh, mentally positive, in a good space with my thoughts and also try and take that into perspective too. I've got a thought process that's lurking at the moment, and just got to keep hammering that home."