Keshorn Walcott caused a sensation at London 2012, winning javelin gold at the age of only 19. Though his fortunes have fluctuated since then, the Trinidadian is intent on retaining his title in Rio.
Born and brought up in the village of Toco on the northeastern coast of Trinidad, Keshorn Walcott was a keen footballer in his childhood.
Though his older brother Elton was a promising triple jumper who excelled on the regional junior scene, Walcott stumbled across track and field almost by accident, as he explained: “Back in 2009, my cousin (Jamel Paul) and some other guys used to be throwing the javelin. One evening I went out and attempted it, and that was basically it. The first throw I took was further than what they were throwing, and they were training.”
That April, aged only 16, Walcott threw 59.30m to score the first victory of his fledgling career at the CARIFTA Games, the Caribbean junior athletics championships. He remained unbeaten in the regional competition through to 2012, his final year as a junior, by which time he was throwing 77.59m.
A global sensation
Walcott continued to chart a meteoric rise under Ismael Lopez Mastrapa, the Cuban coach of Trinidad & Tobago’s throwing team, who took him under his wing following his maiden CARIFTA Games success.
The young Trinidadian set a new national record of 82.83m at the Central American and Caribbean Junior Championships in San Salvador in June 2012. He went on the following month to win the junior world title in Barcelona (ESP) with a throw of 78.64m on his sixth and final attempt.
Next for the upwardly mobile teenager was a trip to London 2012. Thrilled just to be at the Olympics and rub shoulders with his role model, Norway’s two-time reigning Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen, Walcott made an instant impression in the qualifying rounds, throwing 81.75m to finish tenth and seal a place in the final.
When the battle for the medals came around three days later, the Trinidadian teenager achieved a personal best of 84.58m with his second throw, enough to put him at the top of the leaderboard.
And that is where he stayed, finishing ahead of Ukraine’s Oleksandr Pyatnytsa and Finland’s Antti Ruuskanen to become the youngest Olympic javelin champion of all time. In doing so, he also became the first athlete to score a world junior/Olympic double in the same year in track and field history, and only his country’s second gold medallist, after Hasely Crawford in the men’s 100m at Montreal 1976.
No one was more surprised at his wholly unexpected triumph than Walcott himself: “I always tell myself I’m going to win an Olympic gold medal, but I wasn’t telling myself I was going to win in 2012. When I made the Olympics, my first thing was just for experience. Me and my brother always had a plan that 2016 is going to be our year, so winning the gold in 2012 was a bonus.”
Returning home on 13 August – declared a national holiday by the government – Walcott found a noisy crowd waiting for him at Piarco International Airport in Port of Spain, with thousands more of his compatriots coming out to greet him on the 40-kilometre drive home to his village. That was not the only tribute he received, with a lighthouse being named in his honour and his name being emblazoned on Caribbean Airlines’ fleet of aircraft.
Rio 2016 on the horizon
A serious ankle injury prevented the Trinidadian thrower from reaching the final of the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow. After a year of rest and recuperation, he returned in 2014 to win silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, before achieving a new PB of 85.77m at the IAAF meeting in Zurich in late August.
There were more highs and lows in 2015. Despite failing to reach the final at the worlds in Beijing, where Kenya’s Julius Yego took gold, he took his national record out to 86.20m at the IAAF meet in Rome. He then extended it to 86.43m in Birmingham and passed the 90m-mark with a throw of 90.16m in Lausanne that August, this after the Pan American title had come his way a month earlier in Toronto.
In May 2016 Walcott spoke of his hopes for the rest of the year: “I’m trying to stay focused. My real objective is the Rio Games. I can’t wait and I’m hopeful I can win the gold there. That’s what I really want.
“My preparations have been pretty good,” he added. “I’m expecting this year to be in pretty good shape, with pretty big throws, so hopefully I’m going to go into the competitions and do much better.”