Daniel Stahl on the eve of the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (Cathal Dennehy) © Copyright
Feature London, UK

Stahl relishing a packed house at IAAF World Championships London 2017

On the first night of competition at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, many commentators will make reference to the huge crowds, the 60,000 or so Brits who will pack the stadium for the pinnacle event of the athletics calendar.

What they might overlook, however, are a small but highly vocal clutch of Swedes – 25, to be precise – who have travelled south to cheer their man to what they hope will be gold in the men’s discus.

And while many may view a travelling fan club of close friends as an unwanted burden, with all the expectation it can bring, world-leading thrower Daniel Stahl is looking on the sunny side.

“It’s awesome,” said Stahl on Thursday afternoon, a little over 24 hours before his opening round of the discus. “They’re friends, family, weightlifters from my local club and people from my track and field club.”

The 24-year-old Swede is the undoubted favourite in the discus, owing to one magical night on home turf in Sollentuna in late June when everything clicked and the disc he has spent a decade throwing flew further than he could have possibly imagined.

It eventually crashed into the turf 71.29m away, a Swedish record and the longest throw in the world for four years. Whatever it was that night, he was on, even from his opening effort of 68.88m, which was a short-lived lifetime best.

When he unleashed his 71.29m in the third round, Stahl went sprinting down the infield in celebration, aware that he had joined the all-time greats of his event with a throw that moved him to ninth on the all-time list.

"It was a great atmosphere, a lot of people, a sunny day, and I had a good wind," said Stahl, reeling off some of the reasons for his whopping effort. 

What’s scary for his rivals to consider, though, is that he could have more to offer.

“The technique was 75 percent good on that throw,” he said. “It was a lot of power in the ring. I was pretty quick and had a good speed of release. It was a great throw, but when I looked at it technically, I can work on many more things.”

Student of the Sport

Perfecting his craft has been an obsession for Stahl these past few years, and he admits to often looking up videos of former champions Gerd Kanter and Wolfgang Schmidt. “Kanter is my role model,” said Stahl. “I like his technique.”

Of course, this year will mark a new dawn for Stahl, who entered the Olympics as an underdog but underperformed on the big stage, managing a best of just 62.26m to bow out in qualification. “In Rio I didn’t have any expectations,” he admitted. “I was ranked 31st in the world and I went there and had fun.”

This year, though, it’s very different with Stahl’s 71.29m standing far above the rest of the world, with his closest pursuer being Fedrick Dacres of Jamaica who threw a national record of 68.88m earlier this year. Stahl sees no reason to fear his rivals.

“My shape is much better than last year,” he said. “I’m more confident in my technique and I’m stronger.”

But, with the awareness of what happened in Rio, he adds: “step one is to make the final.”

Given Stahl’s consistency this year, that should prove a routine passage for him and he credits his big breakthrough to long hours spent honing his throwing skills.

“The whole fall, winter and spring I’ve been working on technique, standing in the ring,” he said. “It’s about consistency in technique. I’ve been much stronger in the weightlifting room too, and I’ve been throwing well in all meets.”

Since 2011, Stahl has worked with Vesteinn Hafsteinsson, a man he regards as the world’s best coach, who also guided the career of Gerd Kanter. In their first year working together, Stahl added seven metres to his PB, and it’s been a steady skyward ascent ever since.

Such has been his form this year that many are tipping him for gold, but if there’s expectation on Stahl’s broad shoulders, he certainly doesn’t show it. “I feel no pressure,” he said. “I feel the opposite. Everyone is supporting me and it’s going to be great.”

Stahl watched at home when the Olympics took place in the same stadium in 2012, and he’s relishing the idea of competing in the same arena tonight, and once he navigates his way through that, in the final tomorrow.

“It’s going to be great, a full stadium and screaming Britons," he said. "I love it.”

Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF