It was billed as the biggest and most eagerly anticipated head to head to battle in New Zealand athletics for more than 40 years. A clash of the titans showdown between Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill – two richly talented young shot put talents who are more than equipped to carry the baton for their country’s growing throws heritage for the next decade or more.
In the end it was recent form that counted most as Walsh, the recently minted World Indoor bronze medallist, secured a comfortable victory courtesy of a championship record 20.79m with his sixth round attempt.
On this occasion Gill - competing in his first competition for 223 days- had to concede to his older rival by three years – although a 19.93m heave was good enough to secure a Commonwealth Games B standard, one of his objectives for the day.
With a mass of spectators gathered down by the 100m start and on the second bend to gain a good view of the shot put action it was not hard to gauge the importance of the spectacle, which has garnered more than its fair share of column inches and air time on TV and radio.
The battle was made all the more interesting because the pair had not clashed in 28 months – with Gill, the two-time World Junior champion winning on that occasion on Auckland’s North Shore.
The first round proved a little bit of a damp squib as both men registered red flags, but in round two Gill showed how his lengthy spell away from competitive action had not blunted his throwing prowess with a 19.93m effort. Walsh responded immediately going out to 20.13m with his second throw to take early control.
With his third throw Gill almost matched his effort from the previous round recording 19.89m -before Walsh tightened his grip on the competition with a 20.59m putt – prompting the 22-year-old to clap his hands in satisfaction.
Rounds four and five witnessed no change to the overall picture as the pair struggled to maintain their rhythm in the cold and windy conditions. In the final round, it was Walsh who was confirmed champion after Gill’s final effort was measured at 19.42m.
Relaxed and with a fifth straight New Zealand shot title in his pocket the Cantabrian launched the metal ball out to 20.79m for a New Zealand all-comers record – 0.03cm further than Great Britain’s Geoff Capes achieved some 34 years earlier.
Walsh was relieved to have claimed the much hyped victory which put a satisfying full stop on an outstanding season in which he has twice thrown beyond 21m – the benchmark for world class – and claimed a breakthrough bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Poland.
“Obviously, I came here for the win and I’m pleased with that, although I would have liked to have thrown a bit further,” said the Cantabrian athlete. “I would say well done to Jacko for qualifying and getting the Commonwealth Games qualifying mark. There’s no bad blood between us and I hope this competition goes on for years.
“I was a bit nervous yesterday, but my nerves calmed down a bit before competition. I felt like I was in good shape, but I had no excuses, if Jacko had come out on top because I was in good shape.
“I had a good throws session this morning. It just didn’t quite happen in the competition today, but I’m happy with the month I’ve had.”
Gill took the positives out of finishing second and producing a distance which would have won every single other men’s shot put title in the history of the New Zealand Championships.
“I’m happy for Tom but obviously wanted to win and throw a little bit further, said Gill. “I was pleased to gain the Commonwealth Games standard today. I have a couple of new coaches and I definitely need to work on some technical issues. Glasgow is a big goal of mine and I have plenty to work on.”
By Steve Landells reporting from the 2014 New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington