Saanich thrower chasing Pan Am gold

Sam Willett will compete at this weekend's Pan American Junior Athletic Championships in Edmonton

Sam Willett practises throwing the hammer with Pacific Athletics at Lambrick Park secondary. The 2015 Mount Douglas secondary grad is going to both the Western Canada Games and Pan Am Junior championships later this summer.

Sam Willett practises throwing the hammer with Pacific Athletics at Lambrick Park secondary. The 2015 Mount Douglas secondary grad is going to both the Western Canada Games and Pan Am Junior championships later this summer.

When Sam Willett stepped in for his first of five hammer throws at the B.C. High School Track and Field Championships, he felt the sting of elite competition.

Or was that a wasp?

“I think it was a wasp as I couldn’t find a stinger, and it was right in the neck,” said the recent Mount Douglas secondary graduate. “I feel like it probably disrupted my focus, I didn’t have the meet I would have wanted.”

Willett defaulted on three of his five attempts but still managed to earn his second straight provincial gold in the hammer. His winning throw of 54.94 metres was nearly four metres farther than the second-place attempt, but fell short of his 2014 gold medal throw of 55.87m.

This weekend he’s going to the Pan American Junior Athletic Championships in Edmonton, July 31 to Aug. 2. He’ll also compete at the Western Canada Summer Games in Wood Buffalo, Alta., starting Aug. 7.

Willett nearly missed qualifying for the Pan Ams before regaining his form in the junior competition of the recent Canadian Track and Field Championships, where he threw the hammer 59.45 metres in the fifth round after yet another distraction.

“The competition was quite delayed, two hours, because the [throwing] cage broke and again I feel like that threw people off,” Willett said.

Willett is focused on the hammer, though he did win silver in the discus at the high school provincials – Wood Buffalo might be his last discus thrown in competition. At six-foot-one, his frame is that of a hammer thrower’s, absent of the long arms used by the world’s elite discus competitors.

Willett didn’t start throwing until Grade 11. His dad, Laurie, is a volunteer coach with Pacific Athletics Track and Field Club, but was not a thrower.

“No, dad’s from Australia, he did cricket and Aussie rules football,” Sam said. “I actually played cricket until a couple years ago.”

“Sam is very explosive, he has a very good nervous system, which is what you want for a thrower,” said Sheldon Gmitroski, Willett’s coach from Pacific Athletics.

“The work ethic is there. [Willett] coaches the younger Pacific Athletics lads, he’s polite, he fits the profile of a good track and field athlete.”

Willett is part of a new generation of throwers who train in the cage at Lambrick Park. The cage is only three years old, a partnership by the Gmitroski family and other families and businesses that came together.

That same year (2012) the cage spawned multiple provincial medals from Lambrick throwers, including Sheldon’s daughter Taryn Gmitroski (javelin), Adam Keenan (hammer) and his cousins, Mason (hammer, discus) and Matt (discus) Kereszti.

And now Willett is on pace to follow in Keenan’s footsteps, as the 2013 Lambrick grad has been training in the national program from Kamloops.

Except Willett will stay here and attend the University of Victoria, something he hopes will take the sting out of twice-daily training.



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