Road to Rio: Shot putter’s impressive form ahead of Olympics

Shot putter Damien Birkinhead usually goes by his nicknames ‘Corio Colossus’ and ‘Teesdale Tractor’.

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However, after qualifying in February for the Rio Olympics, come August he’ll be known simply as an Olympian.

In February, he threw a personal-best distance of 21.21m, which was 5cm shy of the Australian record held by his coach Scott Martin.

Birkinhead holds several national titles, and competed for Australia at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

He said the sky’s the limit for the only sport he’s ever been good at.

“For my first nationals I came second last, and I said to my mum I’m going to come back next year and win it… and I actually did,” he said.

“I came back with a meet record and won by over a metre.”

From Scottish and English descent, Birkinhead has competed in the Highland Games in Scotland, where the discipline of shot put originated.

He said he didn’t mind competing in a kilt and admitted that he didn’t abide by the traditional rules of kilt wearing, instead opting to keep his shorts on underneath.

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“It’s not as bad as what people imagine it, it’s a bit heavy and it does go up a bit when you spin,” he said.

Despite standing more than six feet tall and weighing in at 140kgs, Birkinhead said it is his red hair which attracts attention.

“I’m a natural red head, which is unfortunate, I’m the only one in my family with that red hair,” he said.

With Birkinhead consistently throwing more than 21m, he’s in the conversation when Olympic medal talk is raised.

Australia hasn’t won an Olympic medal in shot put in more than 30 years.

“Everyone dreams to make the Olympics, no one expects it’s going to happen.” 

Martin, who is also a former Olympian, said his protege has what it takes to win in Rio.

“He’s just had such a good year, and made some break through,” Martin said

“I think he’s going to do really well, he’s at that exciting time when he could go really big.”

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Martin believes his athlete will eventually surpass his own national record.

“It’s nice he let me have it for another couple of months, but it won’t be long before he smashes that and hopefully goes further,” Martin said.

A podium finish in Rio is a dream for Birkinhead.

“Everyone dreams to make the Olympics, no one expects it’s going to happen,” he said.

“Not many people get to say they’re Olympic medallists, and I’m just honoured to represent my country on the Olympic stage.”

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