Shot putter Damien Birkinhead joined the 21m club when he hit 21.21m in February. Here are ten reasons behind the Aussie's landmark throw.

1. Genes from Geelong

Born in Geelong, in southeast Australia, to a Scottish mother and an English father, Birkinhead hails from the sort of stock which is perfect for throwing heavy implements a long way. His mum and dad are both strong and tall. At the age of 14 he stood at more than 1.80m (5ft 11ins) and weighed 104kg – a perfect putting advantage. On the recommendation of his uncle, who was president of the Corio Athletics Club, he took up throwing the shot.

“I can’t really kick a ball or pass a ball, but I always knew I could lift heavier things than the other kids,” says Birkinhead.

2. Early success

Birkinhead’s uncle had a hunch that he would be suited to life in the shot circle, and he was proved correct. Within a few months of taking up the sport, he was crowned Australian All Schools under-15 champion. He had found his calling.

“The shot put was something I was good at, so I strived to improve,” he says.

Damien Birkinhead ()

If this 📷 didn't get a million likes on Instagram we don't know what will

3. Embrace the unknown

At the age of just 16, Birkinhead made his international debut when he competed for Australia at the 2009 World Youth Championships in Bressanone, Italy. He was outclassed, finishing down in 18th. But he refused to let the experience crush him.

“To this day, it was one of the best trips and experiences I have ever had,” he explains. “It was a huge learning curve. The main thing I learned was it is one thing to win nationals, it is another to be competitive on the world stage. It is about holding your nerve, particularly when everything does not go your way.”

He was a quick learner. The following year Birkinhead placed fourth at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore and in 2012 he signed off his age-group career with a bronze medal – behind fellow Antipodean Jacko Gill – at the Barcelona World Junior Chams.

4. Pick a nickname

From Lightning Bolt to the Kansas Cannonball, from Batman to Air Lavillenie, any athlete worth their salt has a nickname. Following a newspaper interview in 2008, Birkinhead was given his moniker: The Corio Colossus.

“They reckoned I looked like a guy from the film Rob Roy called the Colossus,” explains Birkinhead helpfully. 

"You won't like me when I'm angry"

5. Keep up with the big guys

Looking to improve after winning his world junior bronze in 2012, Birkinhead switched from the glide to the rotational technique. “Most of the top gliders stand at 6ft 7ins or 6ft 8ins and are pretty strong,” he explains.

Standing at a modest – in shot put terms – 1.90m (6ft 3ins), the Aussie believed the rotational technique would enable him to keep pace with the big fellas of the shot circle.

6. Find a world-class training buddy

Good pals with New Zealand’s reigning world indoor champion Tom Walsh since they first met at the 2009 World Youth Championships (Walsh placed 6th), the Kiwi has annually hopped over the Tasman Sea to hook up for training periods with Birkinhead.

The pair have learned much from each other. Birkinhead incorporated an exercise to his programme called “the Tom Walsh drill” – a throwing exercise with a medicine ball, which replicates the throwing movement, apparently.

“It shows it is possible to come from New Zealand or Australia and be competitive on the world stage,” says Birkinhead of their world-class status.

7. Work with a great coach

Few athletes can maximise their potential without the aid of a great coach. Birkinhead started working with Australian shot put record holder Scott Martin in early 2012, and it has been a match made in shot put heaven.

“He’s just a great all-round guy,” says Birkinhead, whose PB is a tantalising six centimetres shy of his coach’s national record. “He’s one of the wisest people I know and is prepared to pass the experience he learned the hard way.”

And we thought we asked weird questions

8. Have a strength, work on your weaknesses

Shot putters come in all sorts of big shapes and big sizes and many of them posses a weapon or two in their arsenal – Birkinhead does.

“My strength would be my power,” says the 23-year-old 130kg Aussie. “I’m not necessarily the strongest or the fastest thrower, but I do have a bit of power behind me.”

His basic athletic conditioning was something that required a bit of fine-tuning.

“When I first started out, I couldn’t do something as simple as standing on one leg,” he explains. “I had no core strength, which is why I suffered a lot of injuries. Since then I’ve worked hard with the physios and on my strength and conditioning to improve on my weaknesses.”

9. Distract yourself

Athletics can be all-consuming, which is why it is important to have some other interests away from the track. Birkinhead loves “to make things”. He enjoyed woodwork at school and among one of his more impressive creations was a 2m high display cabinet. The civil engineering student is also a big fan of Next Media Animation, in which the latest news stories and sporting events are created humorously through animation.

10. Aim high

Having just been picked for the Australian team heading to Rio 2016, Birkinhead hopes to compete and perform well at his first Olympics.

“I’d like to get Scott [Martin]’s Australian record and an Olympic medal someday, which is something everyone strives for.”

And why not?