In every sense, Tom Walsh is leading Athletics New Zealand’s charge at the world championships in London.
The shot putter is our best medal hope for the event, which kicks off tomorrow morning in London.
Walsh, whose father comes from Cronadun, near Reefton, has also been announced as team captain, a position filled by Nick Willis or Dame Valerie Adams in previous campaigns.
Walsh admits it was a surprise.
“It was pretty cool. I didn’t think I’d get it for a long time, because you know Nick is still in the team and I thought he rightfully had it.
“Then there is Val, who I thought was going to be around for a long time, but she’s off having a baby, which is nice for her.
“So to get named [captain] last night was special. There is not much I have to do, but I guess if someone wants questions answered, then I’m the guy they come talk to.”
If Walsh can secure a place on the podium, he will be the first male New Zealander to win a medal at track and field’s pinnacle event.
Beatrice Faumuina and Val Adams are the only two New Zealanders to achieve such a feat.
The 25-year-old will have to navigate his way through one of the deepest shot put fields in recent history, with several burly men capable of throwing further than 22m.
Walsh threw 21.36m to win bronze at the Rio Olympics last year.
“It’s just amazing how much it’s jumped up,” he says. “We’ve got Crouser, who’s obviously thrown 22m 67 times this year and has thrown 21m once, which is his worst throw.
“Then, there’s another American guy, Joe Kovacs, who has been very successful over the past couple of years. Then, we have four or five other guys, who are realistic medal contenders … it’s crazy.
“It’s as deep as it’s ever been, which is good for the sport.”
Walsh is looking to a quirky trend in the history books to help him topple Ryan Crouser.
The Olympic champion has dominated the entire season, sailing past Walsh and others, meet after meet after meet.
But the New Zealander says Americans have a habit of peaking too early before big events, due to their selection criteria.
“To get to the world champs or Olympic Games, they have to get top three in their trials. It does not matter if they’ve already reached the qualifying standard or thrown the furthest in the world, if you get fourth, you’re not coming.
“So they have to peak for that and then this (world championships) is six weeks later. Some of them do struggle, but others are able to maintain their form.”
Walsh’s incredible improvement over recent years has seen his once-strong rivalry with Jacko Gill slip away.
While New Zealand’s top putter is aiming for gold, New Zealand’s number two is aiming for a place in the finals in London, hoping to produce a throw of more than
Gill has backed his compatriot to upset Ryan Crouser, which pushed his team captain to address their past.
“When Jacko was doing really well through school, I was very concerned about what he was doing and how far he was throwing, and my progress slowed because of it.”
“We’ve both grown as humans, we’re older now, we do chat and stuff like that it’s just maturity. For a time, I saw him as a rival a pure rival and nothing else.
“But now, if I can help him in any way, I will, and I believe he knows that and will come to me if he needs any help.
“But he’s throwing pretty well this year, so he’ll be fine.”
New Zealand Herald