Barely out of the junior ranks, David Storl was a fresh-faced 20-year-old when he competed at his first European Athletics Championships in Barcelona. He finished fourth.
Tonight, just four years later, at the ripe old age of 24, the German part-time policeman made athletics history by becoming the first man ever to win two shot titles at both European and World Championships cementing his status as the (almost) unbeatable championships performer.
Storl had arrived in Zurich as the overwhelming favourite and lived up to his billing in the Letzigrund Stadium with a commanding victory in a contest that never really demanded his best.
He had improved to 21.97m this year, more than half a metre further than anyone else in the field, and had gone beyond 21.50 in his last four competitions. Not surprisingly, he had the magic 22m mark in mind, and this would have been appropriate setting for it, with Swiss great Werner Günthör’s championships record a realistic target at 22.22m.
But Storl didn’t get close to those distances this evening, and never needed to, his first round effort of 21.41 enough to secure the first gold of the 22nd European Athletics Championships.
That was just as well, for Storl struggled to re-find his technique through the next five rounds, hampered by a left knee problem sustained on his second throw.
“I lost my technique after the first throw and couldn’t improve,” said Storl. “I wanted to throw further but it was not meant to be.
“I felt something in my knee on the second and third attempts and though I tried to do more in the rest of the competition, it was not the day when I was able to compete at my best.”
Not that Storl really cared about that for he’d achieved his goal of becoming only the fifth man to win two European shot titles, an impressive double to go with his two world titles from 2011 and 2013.
His victory at the Moscow World Championships last year came in controversial circumstances when his winning put was originally ruled a foul before judges checked the pictures on a photographer’s camera.
But tonight’s win couldn’t have been more straightforward, as Storl led from start to finish and won by 55cm from Spain’s surprise silver medallist, Borja Vivas, with two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski a disappointing third.
If anything, he looked a little nervous as he came into the arena but Storl was soon dropping warm-up throws around 21 metres. His look was indeed deceiving, for he flipped a supremely relaxed first round effort out to 21.41, further than anyone else in the field has thrown this year.
Talk about a statement of intent, a starter to build on with five rounds still to go. But the fireworks fell flat, and that was pretty much that for the rest of the final.
Majewski was second at the end of that round, and he improved to 20.83 in round two when Vivas moved passed him into silver by 3cm.
From then on the unsettled Storl was utterly unchallenged. He fouled rounds two and three, stretching and flexing his left leg between attempts, then managed 20.75 in the fourth before ending with 20.98.
In the stands, coach Sven Lang had been shaking his head through much of the contest, but he shook his athlete’s hand at the end and handed him a German flag to drape around the shoulders of mascot Cooly the Cow.
In truth, though, Storl’s celebrations were rather muted. It was a case of job done, if somewhat below his own high expectations.
“Of course, I am happy to win,” he said as he joked around with his old rival Majewski at the post-event press conference. “But I expected to do better and I am not happy because I could not throw at my best because of the knee."
His collection of outdoor titles now reads world youth, world junior, two world senior crowns, and now two Europeans. He has set world youth and world junior records and in 2011 became the youngest ever world champion at 21.
So it’s just the Oympic title missing, then, for he was denied gold at London 2012 when Majewski beat him by 3cm.
Tonight, however, the Pole admitted that even a crocked Storl was too good for the rest.
“David is a young guy and a great athlete,” he said. “At this time he is the best. I can beat him, of course, but tonight I was throwing for second for this year he is too good.”
A former footballer and decathlete, recent reports have suggested Storl may also take up discus throwing after rumours that he was throwing 60m in training. It’s a notion he was quick to dispel.
“I do it, but it’s just for fun,” he said. “Maybe when I am 40 or something, I’ll try it seriously. Now, there’s no time. I don’t want to be the next Robert Harting.”
Why should he? He’s too busy making history as the first David Storl.