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Rising shot put star leaves the best till last

New world junior shot put champion Maddison Wesche may be lauded as the next Dame Valerie Adams, but she's determined to make her own name in global athletics. Sarah Cowley Ross reports.

The two times I’ve seen Maddison Wesche - the newly-crowned world junior shot put champion - compete, she threw a personal best in the sixth, and final, round.

As an athletics trainspotter, I was immediately impressed by her steely determination to produce her best under pressure. When a competition heats up, Wesche doesn’t seem to have a problem clearing her mind and getting down to business.

Clearly, she has physical ability, but it’s her skill in getting her head right that is probably more impressive.

Stepping into the circle for her final throw at the world U20 championships in Tampere, Finland, last week, Wesche remembers hearing over the loud speaker that she was guaranteed a medal.

“At that point I thought, there’s nothing stopping me from throwing over 17.05m, so I may as well just go for it,” the 19-year-old says.

And again, she saved her best for last - throwing a personal best of 17.09m, which lifted her from bronze to gold, and cemented herself in New Zealand’s illustrious throwing history.

Speaking to Wesche this week, she admits being a world champion hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

The talented thrower and her team have had the world junior title in their sights for two years, after she finished 20th at her last tilt at the world championships in 2016. “We’ve been working so long for this, so for it all to come together is so cool,” Wesche says.

The New Zealand-born Samoan came to throwing by chance, at an athletics open day in Auckland when she was 12. She started out as a sprinter and, after a race, a parent pulled her aside and asked if she wanted to try throwing.

Ever the competitor, Wesche accepted the challenge. “It felt a tad uncomfortable but I enjoyed it,” she says.

“It’s an absolute honour to be compared to Val, but I want to venture into my own athletics path and make my own name."

- Maddison Wesche

Quickly she found a coach in Walter Gill - a former national shot put champion and father of shot put star Jacko Gill - and they’ve been working together ever since.

After her latest victory, Wesche phoned Gill senior back in Auckland at 1.30am (NZ time) to thank him for his help. “He was so happy that he couldn’t get back to sleep,” she says.

Gill had thought if his young prodigy could come away with a personal best at the world juniors, they should be happy. To win a medal would be a bonus. So to walk away with the title was amazing.

On the advice of her occasional training partner, Jacko Gill, Wesche teamed up with rotational power expert Mike Schofield 18 months ago.

Gill senior acts as her technical coach and Schofield compliments the team with strength and conditioning support, and biomechanics analysis. Wesche describes the three of them together as a “perfect storm”.

Schofield was in Tampere to see her winning throw. “To watch Maddi deliver in her final throw says a lot about her mindset,” says Schofield.

Wesche is extremely explosive and her technique is modelled off men’s shot put world champion Tom Walsh - in the quest to throw further than any woman has thrown before.

She admits she still has a long way to go, but enjoys the challenge of mastering throwing the 4kg ball as far as she possibly can.

Wesche played netball for a couple of years at high school, but loved the nature of individual sport more. “I like being able to control my performance and being responsible for my end result,” she says.

After leaving Lynfield College last year, Wesche now trains full-time, with the support of her family and sponsor, Energy and Co. She aims to go to university next year to study psychology part-time.

For now, she lives in her family home in West Auckland, and heads across to AUT Millennium on the North Shore most days for training.

Wesche is not the first New Zealander to stand on top of the dais at a world junior championships. Dame Valerie Adams won in Jamaica in 2002. Jacko Gill became the youngest-ever athlete (at 15) to win a world junior title in Moncton, Canada, in 2010, and repeated his victory in Barcelona two years later.

Combined with current world indoor and outdoor champion Tom Walsh, it seems Kiwis are not too bad at throwing heavy steel balls great distances.

It’s easy to make comparisons between Wesche and Adams. They are two strong athletic women with Pacific Island heritage - but they are totally different animals in the throwing jungle.

At 1.75m tall, Wesche is a lot shorter than Adams, who towers at 1.93m. Adams’ height offers a huge advantage from the height of release to start the throw. But Wesche’s ability to apply force at high speed offers her a different solution to throwing the shot huge distances.

Wesche is a rotational thrower in contrast to the glide technique used by Adams. Both choice of techniques utilise their respective gifts - Adams’ great anthropometry versus Wesche’s speed, an inherent quality developed from her sprinting days.

Adams’ distinguished legacy is clearly something Wesche wants to add to, but she wants to do so on her terms.

“It’s an absolute honour to be compared to Val, but I want to venture into my own athletics path and make my own name,” she says.

Adams' time is not over yet (she's competing in the Diamond League series in Europe right now), and she was quick to congratulate Wesche on her win in Tampere.

Combined with Cantabrian shot putter Torie Owers, New Zealand may have full representation in the women’s shot put at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Wesche can have a long and successful career if her body allows. Converting her junior success to senior level will take patience, but she’s adamant she’s in it for the long run.

From what I’ve seen from her in New Zealand, and what the world saw from her in Finland last week, her latest title will not be her last.

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