Updated 24 April 2013
Keshorn WALCOTT, Trinidad and Tobago (Javelin Throw)
Born: 2 April 1993, Toco, Trinidad
Lives: Mt Hope, Trinidad
Coach: Ismael Lopez Mastrapa
Manager: Sean Roach
The first time Keshorn Walcott threw a javelin, he knew he was on to something.
“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.”
Coach at the Toco Secondary school, John Andalcio encouraged 15-year-old Walcott to take the event seriously.
“I saw I had a little promise in the javelin and stuck with it.”
Talk about an understatement! Just a few months after that fateful first throw, Walcott was in St Lucia, representing Trinidad and Tobago at the Carifta Games - the regional junior track and field championships.
About a week after his 16th birthday, he celebrated with Carifta gold in the boys’ under-17 javelin, his 59.30 metres throw landing just eight centimetres short of the meet record.
Walcott’s first encounter with Cuban coach Ismael Lopez Mastrapa came at the 2009 Carifta meet.
“He was the (Trinidad and Tobago) coach for throws. He came up to me and told me he wanted to work together. I didn’t have any coach at the time so I said it was okay.”
The logistics, though, proved challenging, since Walcott lived in the rural village of Trois Roches, Toco, some 40 miles from the capital city.
“It was a bit difficult, knowing he (Mastrapa) was in Port-of-Spain and I was in Toco. But we still attempted it. I trained on my own. He sent the programmes via email or called on the phone, and I would just do what I had to do.”
Under the guidance of Mastrapa, the young thrower made great strides. In fact, when asked who the people mainly responsible for his success are, Walcott thought long and hard but could come up with just one name: “Ismael”.
“Without him, I think I would be still struggling to get good distances. Since I’ve been working with him I have been making a lot of progress. Most field athletes are a bit lost in terms of how they are technically. Coming out from Cuba and knowing that everything for them is technique really helped me. Without him, I wouldn’t have a technique.”
At Carifta 2010, in the Cayman Islands, Walcott triumphed in the under-20 age-group. He also struck gold at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Junior Championships, in the Dominican Republic.
At the 2011 Carifta Games, in Jamaica, Walcott defended his title with a championship record throw of 72.04m. And late in the year, he produced a big PR (personal record) at the Pan American Games, in Mexico, his 75.77m effort earning the junior seventh spot in a quality field of seniors.
Up to December, 2011, Walcott was a student at the Toco Secondary School. However, ahead of the 2012 season, he decided to leave school, and focus fully on his track and field ambitions. In a joint leap of faith, Walcott and his elder brother, Elton, a four-time Carifta Games triple jump champion, left their Toco home.
“My brother was already out of school. We had to make a decision to come into Port-of-Spain to train. It wasn’t making any sense staying in Toco anymore because we reached a point where we realised we could only do so much on our own. That’s when we met Sean.”
Seeing the potential of the Walcott brothers, Sean Roach decided to manage their careers. And going beyond the call of duty, the founder and CEO of TNT Elite Sports took Keshorn and Elton into his home, situated about five miles from Port-of-Spain.
“The opportunity came where we could come into Port-of-Spain to train. I could train with Ismael, my brother could get some additional work with some other coaches. So, we sat down, talked about it, and we decided to move. I was just going with the flow in school, so I needed to take a risk. I came out, and the risk worked.”
In his final season as a junior athlete, Walcott won his fourth Carifta title on the trot, grabbing gold at the 2012 Games, in Bermuda. A record throw of 77.59m earned him the distinction of competing unbeaten throughout his Carifta career.
At the Quantum Classic, in Trinidad and Tobago, Walcott produced a big 78.94m effort – a new national open record, and a North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) junior standard as well.
Walcott reset those records, and also added the Pan American junior record to his list of achievements with a winning 80.11m hurl at the IAAF centennial anniversary meet, in Cuba.
In El Salvador, the Toco teen retained his CAC Juniors title with a Championship record throw of 82.83m.
At the World Junior Championships, in Spain, Walcott made history, becoming the first-ever global throwing champion from Trinidad and Tobago.
Then, it was off to the Olympics – an opportunity to perform on the biggest sporting stage at the tender age of 19. It was an occasion to cherish, Walcott getting to share that stage with his throwing idol, Norway’s two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen.
“I always looked up to him, knowing that he was the best. His technique was smooth.”
Walcott threw 81.75m in the qualifying competition, earning the right to compete against Thorkildsen in the Olympic final.
But he did more than just compete.
It is now history that on Saturday, August 11th, Keshorn Walcott produced one of the biggest shocks at the London Games, throwing 84.58m to grab gold.
“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.”
With his big second round hurl, Walcott joined an elite club. Thirty-six years after Hasely Crawford crossed the line first in the men’s 100 metres final, at the Montreal Games, Walcott became only the second Trinidad and Tobago athlete to secure Olympic gold.
“I don’t like that, when you say elite club. It makes it sound like it’s going to be a small group of gold medallists, ever. I would like that to change. What I went through coming back home from the Olympics…when we come back home, it should be normal. There shouldn’t be all that just for one gold medal. Once we get more, the country will be more accustomed. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be an elite group, it will be a large group.”
August 13th was declared a public holiday in Trinidad and Tobago to mark Walcott’s historic achievement. A massive crowd turned up at Piarco International Airport on that day to greet Walcott, on his return from London.
“I wasn’t expecting so many people. Trinidadians got a holiday, so they were grateful and came out to support. That was good, but it was a bit overwhelming.”
The Government showered Walcott with gifts – TT$1,000,000 (US$166,000), 20,000 square feet of land, a TT$2,500,000 (US$416,000) house, a University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) scholarship. Also, it was announced that a new Caribbean Airlines aircraft as well as a housing development in Toco will carry his name, and that the Toco Lighthouse would be called “Keshorn Walcott Lighthouse”.
Another highlight of the airport welcome was Walcott’s presentation of a bouquet of flowers to his mother, Beverly Walcott.
It was not just any bouquet. Ahead of the Olympic final, Beverly asked Keshorn for one of the three bouquets that would be presented to the men’s javelin medallists.
What mummy wants, mummy gets, the Olympic champion delivering the flowers at the welcome home celebration.
Then came the motorcade to Toco. Though Toco is about 30 miles from Piarco, the going was slow as many lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the first person to win an individual Olympic title and a world junior title in the same year.
“They made a lot of stops going up. In Sangre Grande, that crowd was huge. It took 10 hours to reach Toco. That was like coming from London - the longest we ever took. We reached after one a.m. The amount of people that were in Toco, that was surprising. People who had never been to Toco before went up to Toco that day. That was great.”
There were more motorcades to come, as Trinidad and Tobago continued to celebrate. The schedule was a hectic one, forcing Walcott to make a Port-of-Spain hotel room his home for a month.
“That was a bit rough,” says the youngest-ever Olympic javelin champion. “But going all over the country, places I had never been, places I never heard of, was good. At times it was a bit tiring, but at times it was good. The people were so happy just to see a single person like me…sometimes it put a smile on my face.”
With his August triumph, Walcott became only the second athlete from the western hemisphere to win an Olympic men’s javelin title.
Also of great significance is the fact that Walcott is the very first black male thrower to strike gold in the history of the Modern Olympics.
In 116 years, between 1896 and 2012, a total of 116 male Olympic champions have been crowned in the shot put, discus, hammer throw and javelin, as well as in some discontinued events. The only black on that long list is Keshorn Walcott.
“Hopefully, it’s the start of something. It’s a change, and hopefully it will change for the better. More people will be confident in themselves, knowing that they’re black, going up against the Europeans, known as the powerhouses of throwing. When you go out there, you could represent, you know that you are able to compete amongst the best, and win. I took that from it. I wasn’t that confident in myself. Now, I have it in my mind that I could go out and compete amongst the best.”
But he does not want young, black throwers to try to become the next Keshorn Walcott.
“I wouldn’t say you can be a Keshorn. You can be yourself. You can be better.”
In November, at the IAAF centenary celebrations, in Barcelona, Spain, Walcott was presented with the 2012 male rising star award by three-time Olympic men’s javelin champion Jan Železný.
“Everybody knows him. It was a great pleasure getting to meet him at the Olympics. He told my coach, keep doing what I’m doing, and we’re going to see great progression.”
But while Walcott has the deepest respect for the Czech, he does not want to be the next Železný.
“I want to be Keshorn. Once I do anything, I don’t want anybody to tell me I’m the next somebody. I’m the next me, so hopefully, if I surpass what he did, I’m going to be known as Keshorn, not the next Železný.”
Železný is the World record holder with a monster throw of 98.48m.
“It’s a long-term gold,” says Walcott. “I’m more concentrating on the Olympic record. That’s a little closer to me than the World record right now.”
Thorkildsen is the Olympic record holder, the Norwegian establishing his 90.57m standard at the 2008 Games, in Beijing, China.
“Once things work as they’ve been working, hopefully we’ll get up there.”
With Walcott’s admirable work ethic, there’s no limit to what he can achieve.
“My home, where I used to live (in Toco), it wasn’t that much…small home, we didn’t have much. Whatever I got into I really had to work hard because you had to make something out of it, so it could support my family in the long run. So, just getting into sports, knowing that failure wasn’t an option, you just keep pushing. I still have a lot more to go.”
A single-minded devotion to mastering his craft, combined with the expert input of his Cuban coach has resulted in Olympic gold, making Walcott an instant celebrity in Trinidad and Tobago.
“I feel a little bit overwhelmed at times. When you walk outside, everybody’s watching you. Everybody wants to take a picture. Every five minutes, you’re walking, and they stop you. It wasn’t expected, so I didn’t have time to prepare. There wasn’t a lead-up, so I just had to start coping from day one.
“Since I came back, I think I have been coping pretty well. Things have calmed down a lot, so hopefully things will get a little more calm and go back to how it was a little more. I had a little coaching to deal with interviews, and a little public speaking. But for me, I just sleep through the day and go to training. I hardly see people.”
Walcott is now 20, and preparing for his World Championship debut, in Moscow, Russia.
“Winning gold for me at the World Championships is not a must. If I’m able to, that would be great. I’m just going to work hard and see how things go. I’m going for the experience again, because I never competed on the (senior) world stage, other than the Olympics. I’m still fresh in everything.”
Javelin: 84.58 (2013)
Javelin: 2009: 66.72 (700g); 2010: 67.01; 2011: 75.77; 2012: 84.58
2010 1st *CAC U20 Championships (Santo Domingo) 67.01
2011 4th *CAC Championships (Mayaguez) 70.98
2011 7th Pan Am Games (Guadalajara) 75.77
2012 1st *CAC U20 Championships (San Salvador) 82.83
2012 1st World Junior Championships (Barcelona) 78.64
2012 1st Olympic Games (London) 84.58
* CAC = Central American & Caribbean
Prepared by Kwame Laurence for the IAAF “Focus on athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2013