by Chris Tobin
Athletics afficionados are waiting with bated breath for the contest for the shot put gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in five months’ time.
Track events more often than not dominate the news but last year Timaru’s Tom Walsh and Americans Jo Kovaks and Ryan Crouser “duked” it out at the world championships in Doha, Qatar, in a competition considered the greatest in shot putting history which even “wowed” people with a scant interest in the sport.
It is the renewal of that rivalry with the biggest prize in athletics at stake, an Olympic gold medal, that is arousing great interest and also the fact the threesome, and one or two others, are within 20 or so centimetres of the 30-year-old world record of 23.12m.
If the fireworks of Doha where Walsh set his personal best of 22.90m in finishing third are repeated, the winner could end up with a gold medal and world record, but much depended on the the day’s conditions.
“The Olympic Games are about giving yourself a chance,” Walsh said.
Walsh has a ” big comp” temperament, excelling when the pressure goes on and the stakes are high.
“I’m a competitive bugger and especially when you know someone else is pushing me; I put the heat back on them. I love it, mate.”
Walsh was coached in the early part of his career by local man Ian Baird and still kept in touch with him.
One of Walsh’s great attributes is his speed across the circle which generated enormous explosiveness and power.
“It’s speed and freedom in the circle. I know when I’m really good it’s one full movement.”
He worked diligently on his mental preparation also under the guidance of John Quinn, who has helped him for 10 years, but he said it was on an informal basis.
As for the actual throwing, Walsh said he kept it simple.
“It’s all about sticking to the process; every throw in training and competition I remind myself of two key things. If I nail them I can throw.”
Preparation for Tokyo has been going well.
Cancellation of the world indoor championships in Nanjing, China, due to the coronavirus outbreak was a mild disappointment, meaning he would not be able to go for a hat-trick of wins but he would contest a competition in Brisbane instead.
From there it was on to the Diamond League meetings (he is the defending champion in this series) in Doha, the United States and Europe, sizing up his opponents Kovaks, Crouser and others.
Then comes the big one, Tokyo, where the winner of world, world indoor and Commonwealth gold medals will attempt to make his collection of gold complete – and cap a brilliant career.