Maddison-Lee Wesche in the shot put at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018
Maddison-Lee Wesche won the 2018 world U20 shot put title in what was her third global championship, but it wasn’t a case of it being ‘third time lucky’.
Instead, Wesche’s triumph was simply the result of two years of solid hard work and a cast-iron will to perform well when it mattered most.
Wesche (pronounced ‘Wish-ee’) wasn’t considered to be a medal contender when she competed at the 2015 World U18 Championships or the 2016 World U20 Championships, eventually exiting in the qualifying rounds. Even had she matched her PB on both occasions, she would have only just scraped into the finals.
Nevertheless, she was still disappointed with her performances at the time and knew there was work to be done if she was to perform better in her final appearance at a global age-group championships.
“Both championships were pretty rocky,” she said. “After the last World U20s, I trained with both of my coaches (Walter Gill and Mike Schofield) for two years and it went really well.
“When I arrived in Tampere, I knew what to expect and the nerves weren’t as hectic as they were before. I had some insight about what happens.”
This time, Wesche was prepared to challenge for a medal. She was fifth on the 2018 world U20 list going into Tampere and had broken her PB on five occasions throughout the season. She was peaking when it mattered most.
But few could have predicted just how dramatic the women’s shot put final would be.
Wesche trailed her competitors by quite some margin throughout most of the final, managing 16.47m in the third round to sit in the bronze medal position.
Jorinde van Klinken of the Netherlands held the lead with her opening effort of 17.05m but had followed it with four fouls. China’s Zhang Linru matched the leading mark in the penultimate round to steal the lead on countback.
But in a final twist, Wesche – who had recorded fouls in rounds four and five – unleashed a lifetime best of 17.09m with her last throw of the competition to take the lead. Zhang and Van Klinken were unable to better that performance with their final efforts, so Wesche was confirmed as the winner.
“I don’t know if it’s real,” Wesche said at the time. “I’m super happy.
“I knew my PB was close to the leading mark and I’ve been in top shape for a couple of weeks now so I knew I was going to get close to that. I felt like there was a big throw waiting to come out. I just needed to connect everything and make sure I was going through the process.
“Everything fell into place and worked out in the end,” she added. “I’ve worked hard for this for two years. It means everything.”
A New Zealand tradition
The New Zealand flag has become a common sight in shot put medal ceremonies at major championships over the past couple of decades.
Valerie Adams has won every international title available, starting with world U18 and U20 titles as a teenager before going on to win two Olympic golds and eight senior world titles (four indoor, four outdoor).
Jacko Gill dominated the U18 and U20 shot put scene from 2010 to 2013, winning three global titles and setting numerous world age bests and records.
Fellow New Zealander Tom Walsh, meanwhile, is the current star of the event, having won the 2017 world title and two world indoor crowns.
Wesche needn’t look far for inspiration.
“It’s amazing when you have the world’s best throwers in your back yard and see them down at training,” said Wesche, who finished second to Adams at last year’s New Zealand Championships. “Valerie trains where I train, we say hello, we chat as we pass through; it’s really good.
“Jacko threw a world U20 record when he was younger and that was amazing to see,” added Wesche, who is coached by Gill’s father, Walter. “Walter’s always there and I’m able to ask Jacko questions whenever I need to so it’s really good.”
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Congratulations @maddiwesche for winning the women’s shotput, U20 World Junior Championships in Finland with a PB throw of 17.09m. Another thrower in the making outta our small but amazing country. Big ups to your coaches and team around you. 🥇🇳🇿👌🏼 #earnthefern #moretocome #shotput #wethrowsteelballs #nzproud #worldjuniors #anotherinthemaking
While the Gill family has helped massively in her development, Wesche’s own family has also played a big part. Her mother used to play hockey, her father played basketball and her older sister played netball.
Wesche found her niche in athletics and primarily trained in sprinting events between the ages of seven and nine. “But then I found shot put,” she says, “and I ended up loving it a lot more than sprinting.”
The 2019 season is Wesche’s first as a senior and it has started promisingly.
In her first competition of the year, she threw 17.10m to add one centimetre to the PB she had set in Tampere. She obliterated that mark a few weeks ago, though, at the Sir Graeme Douglas Track Challenge in Auckland.
With Adams standing ring-side to watch her younger sister Lisa compete, Wesche produced a lifetime best of 17.72m in the opening round. She wasn’t finished, though, and improved further to 18.32m in round two.
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Still aged 19 – she’ll turn 20 in June – Wesche now occupies the No.2 spot behind Adams on the New Zealand senior all-time list.
Just as significantly, Wesche has now secured a qualifying mark for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
When she competes there later this year, Wesche will line up against the best shot putters in the world. Given her previous experiences of major championships, she’ll know not to expect too much on her World Championships debut. It could take a second or even a ‘lucky third’ attempt before she starts to challenge for medals.
Whatever happens, though, Wesche will be keen to soak up the entire experience.
“It's an individual sport,” she says, “and I thrive on the pressure and competing against amazing people.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF