The European football championships are producing some compelling games. And once more this week, I’m moved to use them as another point of reference as the Tokyo Olympics get closer.
The games on Monday, got me thinking about what Keshorn Walcott could do in Japan. But more of him later.
Back to Monday, Spain and France were on opposite ends of the emotion Richter scale following their round of 16 matches. The Spaniards were ecstatic, triumphant, after out-lasting and out-shooting Croatia 5-3 after extra time in Copenhagen, Denmark. But in Bucharest, Romania, the French were left subdued and exhausted after being dragged to a penalty shootout by Switzerland and losing when Kylian Mbappe missed their sixth kick.
Like the Croats, the Swiss had rallied from 3-1 down to level at 3-3 just before regulation time ended. But unlike Luka Modric and his Croatian mates, the Switzerland players kept their composure all the way to the shootout. They survived the blow of Ricardo Rodriguez missing a penalty that would have put them 2-0 up in normal time, and then seeing Karim Benzema score twice in 90 seconds to give France the lead. They kept their heads after the further setback of seeing Paul Pogba produce a piece of brilliance with a long-range curling shot that made it 3-1 and conjured up two goals before the end to take the wind out of French sails.
As in all contests with this high drama, their were heroes and villains. While Rodriguez and star striker Mbappe would have suffered and had fingers pointed at them after their misses from the spot, Hugo Lloris the French goalkeeper would have been Captain Fantastic for guessing right and stopping Rodriguez’s strike. And his keeping counterpart Yann Sommer would have been the toast of Zurich for denying Mbappe.
Sommer’s story at this tournament is a kind of fairly tale one. He had earlier left it for the birth of his daughter but returned in time to ultimately get his side into the quarter-finals.
Mbappe, his reputation as one of the world’s most exciting players well earned, ended a poor tournament by missing the kick that cost the World champions the chance to follow up with the European title. Mbappe didn’t hang around the pitch after the Sommer save, and one can only imagine the pain he was feeling. It must have been an awkward time in the dressing room afterwards, especially since before the tournament, Mbappe had had a public spat with fellow strike Olivier Giroud over who was not passing to who. Pogba, as happy as he would have been with the way he influenced games throughout the Euros, would also have felt heavy regret over the misplaced pass that allowed Switzerland to equalise.
At the Swiss lockers though, there would only have been happy noises.
“What an evening of football,” was how Sommer put it.
Keshorn Walcott has had a night like that one on Monday.
His came on an August evening back in London, 2012, when he threw his way to the javelin gold medal. Final though it was, the 19-year-old from Toco had nothing to lose. He was just out of the junior ranks, having won gold at the World Championships months earlier in Barcelona. However, since back then, Walcott has shown himself to be one of those athletes who is able to raise his game on the big occasions.
In none of the nine years since that London gold has he been a top Diamond League contender, the fitness and consistency not being there. But when the championship finals have come, Walcott has found a performance for a medal.
Besides that gold from the blue in London, Walcott went to Rio De Janeiro in 2016 and managed to mount the prize rostrum again, this time for bronze. It was T&T’s only medal of those Olympic Games.
But arguably, Walcott’s greatest performance in a competition came at the 2018 CAC Games in Barranquilla, Colombia. There he found himself locked in a duel with Anderson Peters, the Grenadian champion who is now the current World champion. Back in Barranquilla, Peters had his hand on the gold medal with only one round of throws left in the final. With the last fling of the competition though, Walcott, struggling with an injury to his left leg, snatched the precious metal away with an 84.47 metres effort that put Peters’ 81.80 in the shade.
How did he do it?
“I don’t like to lose,” was his answer.
Indeed, Walcott’s career to date has taught the T&T champ the benefits of never giving up and believing in one’s preparation process.
Walcott did not compete in 2020, but he has been building momentum so far this season. His 89.12 effort in Finland last week would have been a big fillip. It was his best distance in five years, a reminder that there are still world class throws left in that right arm. Yesterday, he would have gone up against the in-form German Johannes Vetter in another meet. But whatever the final result, Walcott already knows he can be in the medal mix again in Tokyo. He will not mind if he is not the headline name going there. Like the Swiss, Keshorn will just keep going, keep pushing, waiting to strike at the right time.
Rarely has T&T sport had a fighter like him.