By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - World indoors bronze medallist Tom Walsh will snap back to reality next week but not before he has a few days to soak up the thrill of winning his 'Goliath v Goliath' shot put battle at the New Zealand athletics championships on Saturday.
The first clash in two years between Walsh and world junior record holder Jacko Gill had created such interest in New Zealand's athletic championships, officials felt they were riding a wave of interest and anticipation not witnessed in the sport in the rugby-mad country since the 1970s.
"You probably have to look back at the era of (John) Walker, (Dick) Quax and (Rod) Dixon to see something like this," Athletics New Zealand spokesman Brett Addison told Reuters of the interest in the duo's clash. "It has been quite a long time.
"There have been some good little battles in the past but I don't think we have had a contest between someone who is third in the world and someone who is a world junior record holder."
The battle between Walsh and Gill even relegated twice Olympic champion Valerie Adams to secondary billing, though the 29-year-old's pulling power was no less diminished as a queue to get a photo and autograph after she won her 13th national shotput title stretched upwards of 80 metres.
"I'm like the warmup game, the curtain raiser," Adams, a four-times world champion, said with a smile after she threw 20.46 metres to set the second best distance of the year and obliterate the small field of six competitors.
"That's cool. It's great to have publicity and no matter what event it is it's great for people to come out here and watch what we do. It's hard to make it in this sport."
More than 5,000 people crammed into the small Newtown Park venue nestled in the hills underneath Wellington Zoo, with the crowd standing five deep next to the track-side fence to watch the clash between Walsh and Gill.
It was Walsh, however, who captured his moment, hurling the 7.26kg metal shot out to 20.79 metres on his final throw to claim a New Zealand all-comers record and his fifth national title.
The 22-year-old Walsh, who won bronze at the world indoor championships in Poland earlier this month and beat double Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski into fourth, almost fell foul of the judges on the throw when his foot seemed to touch the stop board.
Walsh asked the officials to review video footage and he was given the benefit of the doubt, though his consistent series of throws, with three over 20 metres, had already sealed the title.
"I came here to get the New Zealand title. I didn't throw as far as I wanted but I'll take it any day," said the affable Walsh, who returns to a Christchurch construction site and his day job as an apprentice builder on Monday.
"I've been throwing pretty well over the last month so I was pretty confident I could throw enough to win. But there were always nerves, every time I throw against Jacko is hard work."
Gill's first legal throw of 19.93 metres was good enough for second and achieved the Commonwealth Games 'B' qualifying standard and he should join Walsh in Glasgow later this year.
The 19-year-old Gill, the son of former national shot put champion Walter, sprang to prominence as a 15-year-old when he won gold at the world junior championships in 2010, breaking Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt's mark as the youngest male world junior champion.
He has kept a relatively low profile in the past 18 months as he concentrated on the junior ranks but he ratcheted up interest in the Wellington showdown when he posted a training video on YouTube after Walsh won bronze in Poland.
The video, dubbed 'The Chilliman', shows Gill squatting 250kg, bench-pressing 221kg, jumping from the ground onto a bench 1.56 metres high and doing one armed pressups before he eats a chilli without grimacing while staring at the camera.
"That was the first one I've eaten," Gill, who grows chillis at home, told reporters on Saturday.
"I was trying to look tough in the video but about one second after the video ended I was throwing up, it was burning," he added laughing.
"I'm not that tough."
(Editing by John O'Brien)