LONDON (Reuters) - Trinidad & Tobago’s first Olympic gold medal in a field event was forged in the unlikely setting of an old school field by a teenager larking around with his cousins.
Less than four years on and still not yet out of his teens, Keshorn Walcott became Olympic javelin champion on Saturday with a victory that surprised himself, let alone the sporting world and beyond.
More surprising was that the winner, only 19, hails from a nation and region, Cuba aside, not usually associated with field events.
Trinidadian sprinters? Yes. Think 1976 Olympic champion Hasely Crawford, Trinidad’s first and only other Games gold medalist.
Trinidadian cricketers? Yes. Think former West Indies captain Brian Lara. Even footballers. Tobago-born Dwight Yorke who enjoyed a stellar career with Aston Villa and Manchester United.
Javelin throwers? Not until Walcott first picked up a javelin for fun as a 16-year-old and launched it 55 meters.
His rise to the top has come at a phenomenal rate and reached a crescendo in the Olympic stadium when, with no expectation of success despite being crowned world junior champion last month, he upstaged the sport’s biggest names.
A sporty youngster who enjoyed cricket and football, Walcott said he realized quickly he was not cut out for the track.
“I was never really any good at sprinting so I didn’t stick with that. I tried triple jump because my brother does that... I was doing that along with the javelin so I needed to make a choice. I was always better at javelin,” Walcott said smiling, the gold medal proudly around his neck.
“In my first year I just went out there for fun.”
His first major competition was the 2010 world juniors in which he flunked. But it hardened his attitude and resolve to come back a better athlete.
“I was 16th or something. I said to myself I would come back hard and better things will come.”
His desire to improve paid off. Success came at regional level and then in Barcelona last month he became world junior champion.
His work ethic and endless hours put in at a pre-Games training camp in Wales paid off on Saturday, first setting a personal best with his opening effort of 83.51 meters, then bettering that with 84.58 on his next attempt.
One by one, his rivals tried to go longer. Each time they failed.
“Most of the other guys were under pressure coming into the competition because of the expectations on them,” he said.
”There wasn’t any on me and I was relaxed. After the fourth round and I was still in the lead, I thought ‘things are coming close now’.
“The fifth and sixth throws I was really frightened. Then it hit me when the second guy (in silver medal position) threw and I told myself ‘I just won gold’...I couldn’t believe it.”
Worryingly for his rivals, Walcott said deficiencies in his throwing technique meant “he had not been doing it right”.
“I’ve got a lot to work on with my technique. The next few years I will hopefully get things right, get a lot stronger. I would like to throw over 90 meters... get into that bracket.”
Expectations will be high for future, he acknowledged.
”We will go back to the drawing board. Go home...hopefully my coach will allow me some rest, then we’ll start again.
“I‘m not famous. I‘m proud of myself and hopefully everyone back home is proud of me.”
Walcott now hopes to meet triple Olympic javelin champion and world record holder Jan Zelezny before he returns home to Trinidad.
Czech Zelezny, coach to women’s javelin gold medalist Barbora Spotakova, dominated the sport for a decade, winning Olympic gold in 1992, 1996 and 2000.
“I only learned of him when I got into the javelin,” Walcott said.
“I saw him over here (in London). I was shocked at his size. I look up to him as the best javelin thrower ever. Hopefully someday I’ll get up to that standard.”
In another sign that the sport has truly expanded beyond its traditional European heartland, Kenyan Julius Yego also made the final, finishing 12th of 12.
“The two of us...from different parts of the world, mixing with the Europeans... I don’t think we were looked at (as finalists). Making the finals itself was a big achievement,” Walcott said.
Jamaica, through the exploits of Usain Bolt and others, has evolved as a powerhouse of sprinting but they could also have a potential Olympic field event champion in future years in world junior discus champion Frederick Dacres.
“Hopefully, more and more people (from the Caribbean) will push forward into these events,” said Walcott, who has been offered college scholarships in the United States but plans to continue working in Trinidad with his Cuban coach.
Editing by Ed Osmond