Olympians throwing their weight around

Saanich athlete gets a few pointers from hammer thrower bound for Rio

Two-time Canadian Olympic throwers Sultana Frizell

Two-time Canadian Olympic throwers Sultana Frizell

There might not be a crew as fun loving as the Lambrick Park Tossy Posse.

If you didn’t know the group of throwers, an unofficial mix of national athletes and local high schoolers, including Canada’s flagbearer at the closing ceremonies of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, you might not take them serious.

Until they step in the cage, it’s all jokes for Sultana Frizell, 31, and Heather Steacy, 28. But there’s no denying the resumés of the two-time Olympic hammer throwers. Frizell won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Steacy is the 2016 national champion headed to the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics which begin Friday.

“We like to keep a light atmosphere here,” said Steacy, who’s been here since the fall of 2015. “It’s sunny now, but we’re happy to be here even if it’s raining, anything’s better than being in the snow.”

The cage at Lambrick drew both Steacy and Frizell here from Kamloops, where they previously threw with Derek Evely and now work with Sheldon Gmitroski.

Having the leadership of Frizell and Steacy on a day-to-day basis is a win for the throwing group, said Gmitroski, who recently returned from coaching Canadian throwers at the world junior track and field championships in Poland.

“When you have two role models as strong as these two it’s a tremendous thing, the leadership helps the group and it’s been a great year for growth, the type that may never occur again,” Gmitroski said. “They also help keep this a safe place where you can make mistakes, and learn what works best. We want to be analytical but not in a stereotypical [strict] coaching kind of way.”

Sam Willett, also a hammer thrower, recently won the junior nationals by six metres.

For Willett, the group dynamic is part of an ideal setup. The 18-year-old Mount Douglas grad continues to study at the University of Victoria though he’s scholarship material for the NCAA, if he wanted to go, Gmitroski said.

Because of his success and good nature, Willett has become the favourite target for Frizell’s and Steacy’s tough love. Time passes slow between chirps from his newly adopted “big sisters.”

“It’s an amazing influence having them around. They throw huge distances and it’s inspiring for me, plus they are so strong technically, and it’s a good thing to be relaxed,” Willett said.

For her part, Frizell has reason to keep her head up. She should be on a plane with Steacy heading to her third Olympic Games, but an April foot injury cancelled that plan. It kept her from throwing for seven weeks, and though she’s healthy now and throwing close to her best, she was unable to attain the ‘proof of fitness’ she needed in time for Canadian Olympic Committee qualification.

“You have to look forward and I’ll keep competing in meets this season and begin the preparation for world championships next year,” Frizell said.

When Frizell competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing there was no throwing cage at Lambrick Park. It arrived a little before she and Steacy attended the London Olympics in 2012, built by community support by the families of former Lambrick throwers.

“It’s the field of hammer dreams,” Frizell joked. “I take credit for that one, by the way. Heather can take credit for Tossy Posse.”

The cage has spurred many a Lambrick Park athlete to gold at the provincial high school level, including Adam Keenan, who is now competing for Northern Arizona University, and Willett, who plans to one day duke it out with Keenan for the Canadian title.

The future is good for the group, as the Olympic duo have no plans to leave.

“I’m staying forever, I’m converted,” Steacy said.