Part-time builder Tom Walsh hit the big time in Portland when registering the five biggest throws of the competition on his way to shot put gold. This is how the big Kiwi became world indoor champion. 

Greater experience

Tom Walsh emerged onto the global shot put scene at the 2014 Sopot World Indoor Championships, winning a shock bronze medal. The New Zealander has since learned more about competing on the big stage and enjoyed steady gains.

His next major medal came later in 2014, when he plundered silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. In 2015 he set an area record 21.58m to finish fourth – just 11cm shy of the medals – at the Beijing World Championships. He admits that each championship has taught him a little more, and this has helped him become accustomed to throwing well when it counts.

“My experience has improved. Portland was my fourth major competition and I feel more comfortable coping with the pressures,” says Walsh. “Back in Sopot nobody knew about me, but my confidence has definitely soared going all around the world and knowing I can compete with the top guys.”

Indoor fan

As he has told SPIKES before, Walsh can’t get enough of the electric atmosphere of indoor athletics. Portland may have been only his second ever indoor event (really!), but competing under a roof clearly brings the best out of the personable Kiwi.

“It was an awesome atmosphere,” he said of life inside the very green, very loud Oregon Convention Center. “The crowd really got behind the shot and that’s what I love about the indoors. It seemed like the crowd were almost on the shot sector line.”

Tom Walsh ()

Walsh came into the championships with a best of 21.11m. He bettered that mark with five of his six throws in Portland

Handbrake off

In his three outdoor competitions this year – from which he emerged with a best mark of 21.11m – Walsh was competing solidly but not quite finding his range. In Portland Walsh says he competed with the “handbrake off”.

“My coach [Dale Stevenson, a 2012 Olympian and 2010 Commonwealth bronze medallist] and I know what we needed to do, but letting go is sometimes the hardest thing to do when throwing the shot.”

There was no holding back in the OCC, where he hit 0-60 quicker than a shiny red Lamborghini, powering the shot beyond 21m for each of his five throws from rounds two to six.

Twin peaks

At last year’s Beijing world champs, Walsh admits he was “one or two throwing sessions” from a perfect peak. The stats back up his claim: although he was “cooking” in the Chinese capital, just a couple of weeks later he set a PB 21.62m in Zagreb before claiming his maiden Diamond League victory in Brussels.

In Portland, thanks to the input of his coaching team, which includes physiologist Angus Ross as well as Stevenson, Walsh’s body was in tip-top condition.

“Every peak we try to reach we learn more about me and the way I react to certain sessions,” explains Walsh, who grew up on a farm on New Zealand’s South Island. “It is all about learning more about myself and how my body reacts to certain training.”

Tom Walsh ()

RELIVE THE ACTION: How the big Kiwi turned Day 4 of Portland 2016 into the Tommy Walsh Show

No complacency

Strongly fancied to strike gold at the 2014 Commonwealths, it came as a massive surprise when giant Jamaican O’Dayne Richards snaffled the top gong with a huge area record throw of 21.61m. That day Walsh had to frustratingly settle for silver.

At the world champs in Beijing, Walsh set an Oceania record of 21.58m to sit in second in round four, but had to settle for fourth as champion Joe Kovacs and silver medallist David Storl surged past him in round five.

The lesson he learned from these two comps was to never be complacent. That’s why in Portland, from rounds two through to six, Walsh continued to put the hammer down (shot, surley?) and went beyond the 21m line each time. It was a mark no other man exceeded in the final.

“I knew after throwing 21.60m in round two it would be in the ball park in terms of winning,” he says, “but there was no chance of complacency setting in. I know that some of the big guys were not there [none of 2015’s top four ranked shot putters competed in Portland], but I still had to win a world championship.”

Hammer down, win it he did.

Extra mo-tivation

But it wasn’t just about chasing the gold medal glory in Portland. The Kiwi had another reason to throw far after striking a bet: if Walsh threw over 21.80m in the final then Coach Stevenson would have to grow a handlebar moustache up to the Rio Olympics. Throw less than 21.30m and the mo' was Walsh’s to wear.

As it happened, Walsh missed out on Stevenson having to cultivate the face fluff by two centimetres. It was a slight frustration for the recently minted champion and the perfect scenario for his Australian coach.

Read! Tom Walsh's Words of Wisdom

Read! Tom Walsh's story of farm living