Daegu, KoreaCompetition for the medals was wide open in the men’s shot put in Daegu; there was no clear favourite. But one name that would easily escape most people’s list of contenders was the man who eventually claimed the gold medal - David Storl.
The defending Olympic champion, World champion and medalists galore all had designs on the podium here and anyone could stake a claim. But it was the German who stunned the field, especially the world leader, Dylan Armstrong of Canada, with a sixth round shocker. It measured 21.78m, an enormous improvement on his 2010 personal best of 20.77m. Armstrong had registered 21.64m in the fourth round and was counting on a podium finish for Canada.
“Of course I was hoping for a personal best,” Storl revealed, “but not at that level. I had some good training the last few weeks. I won all these junior medals but I was not expecting to be a World champion amongst the seniors.”
The young man from Chemnitz had indeed struck gold at the 2007 IAAF World Youth Championships in Ostrava then followed up a year later with the World junior gold in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Nothing could predict the breakthrough he would enjoy this season, however.
During the qualifying round in Daegu he gave a hint of his form by throwing a personal best of 21.50m. Still, that only ranked him seventh on the world lists. Not even he had a gold medal in mind until very recently.
“I really started to think about the gold medal in the last round today,” he says to laughter, “not through the season. I had a small injury in April but then I came back into shape and was able to throw over 21 metres in Goteborg (21.03m) then again in Cuxhaven (21.05m). Then I was concentrating on my competitions.”
“At the beginning of the year my plan was to be in the top six and then after the Olympic Games I was thinking to get my first senior medal.”
Of course he is not complaining in the least about his accelerated progress. A World championship is after all a pretty incredible achievement especially at the age of 21. It is his youth that led to Armstrong calling him “the future of shot putting for the next ten years at least.” And as he posed for pictures with the other medalists Armstrong and Andrei Mikhnevich (Belarus) each with his respective national flag, he appeared not at all like a traditional shot putter.
Tall at 1.99m and relatively slender he looks like he would not be out of place with some of the javelin throwers. Then he reveals that he was once a multi events competitor.
“It was in 2005 unfortunately that my coach in multi-events died of a heart attack,” he explains. “So that was another reason I changed to a group of shot putters whom I am with now.
“This year I had to add four kilograms more. It was very tough. I was forced to eat a lot. I would like to be 135 kg in the future but I am trying to throw attempts with my energy and power. I would like to have more weight but this is how it is now.”
For the past five years his coach has been Sven Lang, the German national throws coach, who has been instrumental in Storl’s brief career. But it was his grandfather who encouraged him to join the local athletics club ‘VfL Rochlitzer Berg’ because he had endless energy bordering on hyperactivity. According to some German media it is his grandfather who plots his career.
At an early age he learned about some of the great German shot putters such as Ulf Timmerman, Udo Beyer and he hastens to add, Ralf Bartels, whom he turned the tables on this year to become the top German shot putter. During the Daegu competition he received some encouragement from his compatriot - a two-time world championship bronze medalist - which he is quick to acknowledge.
“We will have some celebration tonight with my coach and Ralf Bartels who is here,” Storl says. “My family is not here but for sure they watched it on television at home.”
During the post event press conference a German journalist raised the topic of doping controls and whether he has been subjected to them recently. Storl calmly responded.
“Concerning the doping controls, I had one yesterday, because I did a European under 23 record in qualification, and another one on August 29th,” he declares. “That was a regular blood doping control and of course we have regular doping controls in Germany.”
When he is not springing surprises on his elders Storl is a typical young man who is more apt to be found in front of his computer or listening to heavy metal music. He is also reportedly a fan of the American situation comedies “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men.” And he is also a qualified German policeman having written his exams last year.
For now this young German has designs on an Olympic podium finish. It wasn’t on his list of challenges at the start of the season but, as Dylan Armstrong says, he is now the man to beat. The manner in which he rose to the occasion in Daegu suggests he can handle the pressure.
Paul Gains for the IAAF