February 23rd, 2024

Canadian throwers stole the show in 2023 with historic world athletics performances

By Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press on December 20, 2023.

Canada threw itself onto the track and field map – quite literally – with some history-making performances at the 2023 world athletics championships.

Ethan Katzberg and Camryn Rogers won the men’s and women’s hammer throw world titles in August, and Sarah Mitton added a silver medal in the women’s shot put in Budapest, Hungary.

Katzberg of Nanaimo, B.C., was the first Canadian to win a hammer throw world title, with Rogers of Richmond, B.C., being the first Canadian woman to do so. Mitton of Brooklyn, N.S., was the first Canadian woman to medal at worlds in shot put.

“For Canada to come out on top at worlds this year shows that we are not just sort of in the mix of it,” sai 24-year-old Rogers said. “We are fighting and battling and getting ourselves up there into the thick of it onto the podium.

“I think that looking on this year, there are things of course that we can learn and do better. But I think this year has the groundwork for all the things that we’re trying to do leading up to (the) Paris (Olympics) now.”

The success led to what seemed like a changing of the guard of sorts, with many referring to Canada as a throwing nation in what was of a down year on the track for Canada’s sprinters.

Mitton says Canada’s throwing success is the result of a gradual climb, with the current crop of athletes building on the experiences of those who came before them.

“We really got to reap the benefits of the slow growth (from) a lot of the other throwers (who) led the way,” said the 27-year-old Mitton. “We’ve been on the scene but growing behind them and now we’ve been able to kind of step up into the spotlight.

“I think it’s led to more throwers in Canada seeing that you can do this on a professional level, showing the world that Canadian throwers are obviously very good. Because historically we haven’t really won a lot of medals.”

Dylan Armstrong, Katzberg’s coach, is the only other Canadian to medal at worlds in shot put, with a silver in 2011 and bronze in 2013. Armstrong is also the only Canadian to medal in the event at an Olympics with his bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Canada boasts two Olympic medals in hammer throw – but both were won more than a century ago. Duncan Gillis claimed silver at the 1912 Stockholm Games, while Con Walsh earned bronze at the 1908 London Olympics.

With the 2024 Paris Olympics approaching, Katzberg, Rogers and Mitton are all medal favourites in their respective events. Mitton finds more excitement than pressure in that.

“When your goals match those expectations, the pressure is minimal because that’s what you’re already working toward,” Mitton said.

“I think we’ve got a lot of like positive results and experience from “¦ winning three of the six medals and I think we all just want to continue to put that out there and grow the sport of throwing.”

Rogers, meanwhile, lives by the mantra: “Pressure is a privilege.”

“I think there’s always pressure and the more that we are able to prove that we have earned a spot up there in the final, we’ve earned a place on the podium, the pressure will continue,” she said. “But speaking solely for myself, I think that’s a really good thing.

“I think that knowing that you have come so far in your sport and feel like there’s still so much further to go, knowing that you get to walk into that ring and prove yourself every single time, I think it’s (the) really incredible part of throwing.”

Throwers weren’t the only Canadians to reach the podium in Budapest.

Pierce LePage and Damian Warner gave Canada the top two spots in the world in the men’s decathlon.

LePage, of Whitby, Ont., won the world title with the sixth-highest point total ever (8,909), with Olympic-champion Warner, of London, Ont., taking silver.

Edmonton’s Marco Arop followed up his 2022 worlds bronze by becoming the first Canadian to win an 800-metre world title.

Canadian sprinters did not enjoy the same success at worlds, however.

Andre De Grasse, a six-time Olympic medalist, had a down year while trying to find his footing after a 2022 marred by injury.

He sat out the 4×100 relay heats to prepare for the 200 final the same day in Budapest.

However, without De Grasse, the relay team couldn’t defend its title, failing to qualify for the final. De Grasse then finished sixth in the 200 as Canada was shutout in the sprints.

However, De Grasse did end his season in September on a positive note by winning a Diamond League title in the 200.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2023.

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