Fri, September 20, 2013

Canadian Dylan Armstrong has a shot at gold

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Dylan Armstrong of Canada competes in the shot put event during the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis, near Paris, July 6, 2012.


LONDON - As a rule over the years, we make our track and field athletes more fast than strong.

Well, meet Dylan Armstrong, a hulk of a Canadian that could have been playing professional football by now if he wasn’t a world-class shot putter.

The 6-foot-4, 306-pounder is his country’s top hope for a track and field medal as the meet gets underway here Friday night. Since finishing an agonizing centimetre shy of winning a bronze medal four years ago in Beijing, Armstrong has become one of the elite of a sport that’s certainly off the radar compared to the other one he excelled at in high school.

Armstrong’s sporting path could have taken a vastly different direction if one of the dozen NCAA football recruiters had won him over when he was growing up in Kamloops, B.C.

“I know he’d probably be stronger and faster than just about any player out there,” Athletics Canada head coach Alex Gardiner said on Thursday. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he was a pro football player. He’s an incredible specimen. “

And one that’s become incredibly successful on the world stage. In fact, if Armstrong should hit the podium on opening night at Olympic Stadium, he would be the first Canadian to win a medal in the event.

While Armstrong is clearly in the mix — and there is some buzz around track experts here that gold is not out of the question — the field is a deep one with six serious contenders.

Included is reigning world champion David Storl of Germany (Armstrong won silver in that event) and defending Olympic gold medallist Tomasz Majewski of Poland plus a trio of American contenders. Qualifying rounds take place in the morning session with the top 12 advancing to the medal round under the Friday night lights.

Since comfortably winning the Canadian championship last month in Calgary, Armstrong has kept a low profile. While the rest of the team prepared for the Olympics at a camp in Germany, Armstrong trained in isolation in Portugal. Gardiner said he has been “in lock-down, his own red zone,” as the event approaches.

“I don’t think he feels the pressure, he doesn’t carry himself that way,” Gardiner said. “He has said repeatedly that he wants to do a good job for Canada. He’s got a personal goal but he’s also got a greater goal as well.

“I’m sure when he wakes up (on Friday) he’ll feel some of the pressure, but he’s confident and that can erase some of the anxiety. He has done this over and over and over again.”

Though it doesn’t figure to be a deep meet in terms of medals for Canada, one of the other contenders is in action on opening day as well — London, Ont.’s Jessica Zelinka who kicks off the first of two days in the heptathlon.

“There are five or six girls who are capable of being on the podium, but I’m planning on putting Zelinka there,” her coach Les Gramantik said on Friday. “She doesn’t have to do anything better than she did (in winning the Canadian trials.) I know her. I see her eyes. I see her focus.”

Meanwhile, though he has nothing to do with him, Gramantik saw Armstrong training this week and was wowed with what he witnessed.

“I thought he was going to throw it out of the stadium,” Gramantik said.

Of course after finishing so close to a medal in China, throwing it a handful of centimetres farther would do fine.

“If it was 10 centimetres it would be ‘whatever’,” Armstrong said earlier this year when asked of the Beijing near miss. “It is a competition and that’s what competing is about. It gives me that extra rocket fuel going into London.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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