10 JUL 2012 General News Barcelona

Toledo finally follows in his compatriot's footsteps

Braian Toledo of Argentina addresses the media at the IAAF Press Conference for the IAAF World Junior Championships  (Getty Images)Braian Toledo of Argentina addresses the media at the IAAF Press Conference for the IAAF World Junior Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright
Argentine javelin thrower Braian Toledo and his famous footballing compatriot Lionel Messi have never met but they have one thing in common, both men have found themselves in Barcelona primarily because of River Plate's lack of cash.

In Messi's case, the well-known Argentine football club did not have enough money to pay for treatment for a growth hormone deficiency when he was 12 years old while, at almost exactly the same age, Toledo decided that his future lay elsewhere because River Plate could not or would not pay his bus fares across Buenos Aires when he was training with them.

Messi arrived at Barcelona's youth academy at the age of 13 and the rest, so it is often said, is history. Toledo has taken a little longer to find his way to the Catalan city but perhaps the same phrase may soon be applied to the 18-year-old from the modest Buenos Aires suburb of Marcos Paz.

However, that's where the comparisons now end and football's loss is now athletics' gain as far as Toledo is concerned.

“I hardly follow football now in Argentina, I don't even support a club. I just concentrate on athletics.

Bad hair day

“After my experience with River Plate, I was back where I live and the man who is now my coach, Gustavo Osorio, invited me to do some athletics. I was the tallest of a group of kids and he was joking about my haircut,” reflected Toledo on Monday at the traditional press conference ahead of the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships, recounting how he became a javelin thrower.

“He gave me a softball and I was the one who threw it furthest but it was not an easy start with the javelin. In fact, the first time I threw it, I hit myself on the back but I went home and realised that learning how to throw the javelin was not an overnight thing.

“I realised that I had to learn the technique but I also realised that it was a way I could change the life of my family,” he added, acknowledging that his youthful potential in the event in the wake of becoming the 2010 Youth Olympic Games gold medallist had led to sponsors knocking on his door.

It's highly likely that even more will be wanting to be associated with him should he succeed in winning at the World Junior Championships later this week.

However, Toledo - an engaging and modest man who is a fine example of sport's ability to transform lives in so many different ways - is certainly not yet counting his pesos.

Watch out for Walcott

Standing between him and becoming only his country's second World Junior Championships winner, after pole vaulter Germán Chiaraviglio stood on top of the podium in 2006, is the substantial figure of Trinidad's Keshorn Walcott.

Walcott is, like Toledo, unbeaten in 2012 and set a national senior record of 82.83m at the Central American and Caribbean Junior Championships on July 1 to move up to fifth on the World junior all-time rankings.

His recent gold medal and big throw in a regional championship, putting behind him some previous below-par performances on the big occasion, also means that the wind has changed among the top javelin juniors.

Whereas until two weeks ago, Toledo might have been considered the favourite due to his competitive tenacity, which also included winning the IberoAmerican title again senior opposition in early June, he is probably now the slight underdog.

“I have followed Keshorn since 2009. I know he only got seventh at the Pan American Games last October, when I finished third, but I expect a tough battle and others could come through as well.

“It would be no surprise to see someone much lower on the rankings make a big improvement. No one is the owner of a medal until the competition is over,” added Toledo humbly.

London calling to the faraway lands

One thing is secure though, regardless of the result, both Toledo and Walcott will meet again at the Olympic Games in a few weeks’ time.

“That will be different. Here I am battling for a medal but in London I will be there to learn, if I can to make the final that would be fantastic but I want to see the great throwers in action in person, like Pitkämäki and Thorkildsen, many of whom I have only seen on video when I have looked for them on the internet.”

Inside of Toledo's left wrist are the Olympic rings and the name Jan Zelezny, his idol, plus the number 98.48 - the distance in metres of the Czech legend's world record which was set in 1996.

Toledo has never met him in person either but may have the chance to do so very soon.

“I expect that he will be there in London and I'm going to make a point of looking out for him, meeting him in London would be my gold medal there,” added Toledo.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF