There is no question as to who is the best throws coach in the world of athletics.
The $64,000 question is — how did the best throws coach in the world end up in Kamloops, coaching with the Kamloops Track and Field Club?
Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk has been with the KTFC for nearly five years and, in that time, has taken the club to heights never before thought possible. In fact, since March the club has been the National High Performance Centre for Throws.
Bondarchuk, a former European and Olympic champion in the hammer throw, was in charge of the Soviet national team throws program from 1976 until 1992, and worked in Portugal and Kuwait until 2004, when he was hired by the KTFC.
So . . . why the KTFC?
“It just happened by accident,” says the 69-year-old Bondarchuk, through his daughter, Tanya Chibirev, who translated his Russian to English. “(Tanya) emigrated (to Canada) with her husband and we were looking to see if there were any clubs here.”
Hoping to get closer to Tanya and his son, both of whom live in Calgary, he started searching for a Canadian job.
Bondarchuk happened to come across an article on the Internet about shot-putter Dylan Armstrong, and got in touch with Dylan’s mom, Judy, the president of the KTFC.
“I just emailed Judy,” says Bondarchuk, who has been married to his wife, Gaylena, for 45 years. “It just happened by a real accident.”
For the KTFC, this accident turned out to be a fortuitous one.
THIS IS THE PLACE TO BE
Bondarchuk — Dr. B to all who come in contact with him — has taken the small KTFC and turned it into the place to be for North American throwers.
Among his pupils are Dylan Armstrong, who finished fourth in the shot put at the Beijing Olympics last summer, and Sultana Frizell, who moved here from Perth, Ont., and went on to finish 33rd in the hammer at Beijing.
With the London Olympics still three summers away, Bondarchuk and his athletes have been training for the IAAF world championships in Berlin later this month.
Three KTFC throwers have qualified — Armstrong and Frizell, along with Jennifer Joyce, who hit her qualifying standard in Madrid in early July. Joyce moved to Kamloops from Richmond in 2007.
As the athletes will tell you — Dr. B knows how to get his athletes ready for big competitions.
“You know when you walk out there that you are physically ready to throw your furthest,” says Frizell. “He has prepared you through his programs and you know on that day that you are ready to throw far; you are mentally ready to do that.”
This is one of the reasons athletes are flocking to Kamloops in hopes of learning to throw a hammer or a shot further than they may have thought possible.
Megan VanderVliet of Oakville, Ont., is another top hammer thrower, and, along with Joyce and Frizell, helped complete a KTFC sweep of the podium at June’s Canadian championships in Toronto.
Creston’s Crystal Smith, a former Canadian record holder in the hammer, trains here, as does her boyfriend, Kibwe Johnson, who originally is from Oakland, Calif. Michael Letterlough, who holds the Caymanian record, joins fellow hammer throwers Martin Bissinger and Ryan Jensen and shot-putter Justin Rodhe, all Americans.
“I think that every coach doesn’t mind having a lot of athletes because it gives more opportunities and gives everyone more experience,” says Bondarchuk, who once trained 37 athletes at one time in Russia. “I do a lot of (studying) different people and different abilities, so it gives me a lot more knowledge.”
TERRIFIC OLYMPIC RECORD
Bondarchuk was born on May 31, 1940, in Starokonstantinov, a city in western Ukraine, which was then a state in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
He was involved in a lot of “outside living” as a child — swimming, soccer and volleyball, but didn’t get involved in organized sports until high school, when he was on the track and field team. Because he was a big guy, he became a thrower.
“There’s not a huge story,” Bondarchuk says. “I was really strongly built. It ended up that (throwing) would be easy for me to do because of my build.”
He turned out to be pretty good.
In 1969, at the age of 29, he won his first international title in the hammer throw at the European championships. By the end of the year, he had bettered the world record twice, the second time throwing 75.48 metres, the first time anyone had thrown more than 75m.
His crowning achievement came at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where he threw 75.50m and won gold. At the next Olympics, in 1976 in Montreal, he threw 75.48m, which earned him a bronze medal.
Bondarchuk actually trained the two athletes — Yuriy Sedykh and Aleksei Spiridonov, both Soviets — who finished ahead of him Montreal.
“When I was in university, that was kind of my job, to become a coach,” he says. “I was coaching and training at the same time.”
And, with that, he became a full-time coach.
Bondarchuk’s record as a coach improved from there — he trained the top three hammer throwers at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. He did the same in Seoul in 1988. And in Barcelona four years later. And, had the Soviets not boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, it likely would have been the same story there.
“We had camps eight times a year, and those camps were about 18 to 20 days long,” Bondarchuk says. “I had about 12 athletes, and all of them were competitive with each other — they all were very strong.
“At these camps, all we did was practise, eat and sleep.”
THE PRICE OF WINNING
Having been the coach of the top program in the world, Bondarchuk knows what it takes to build a winner.
The first thing, not surprisingly, is money.
While coaching the Russians, the government paid for the athletes to live. In Canada, the athletes have to support themselves, which takes away from their training.
“You really need to support the athletes in different ways. You can’t expect them to give you results without (financial) support,” he says. “No money, no results.”
The other thing needed to build a winner is coaching.
Bondarchuk is of the mindset that a coach should share his ideas with other coaches, to help build the sport. He has found that most coaches in Canada don’t share the same belief.
“Everybody’s training separately, everyone thinks, ‘This is my secret, I can’t show other coaches,’ ” he says. “If you don’t share your secrets, your information, you can’t improve.
“If you don’t learn from each other, there is no progress. It surprises me, when I do clinics and share my knowledge, that a lot of people are in shock at what I share. They’re like, ‘That’s your business, why would you share?’ They aren’t really supporting, they’re competing.”
Maybe it’s because he has so much knowledge to share.
THE SCIENCE OF THROWING
Bondarchuk is called Dr. B by his pupils, and not just because it sounds cool.
While he was getting seriously involved in track and field, Bondarchuk was a student, and a pretty good one. He attended the University of Kiev, Ukraine, starting in 1958 and graduating in 1962 before going on to get a doctorate in pedagogical science.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes pedagogy as “the profession, science or theory of teaching.” He has used his doctorate to publish 11 books on maximizing performance and technique while training, while also becoming the top throws coach on the planet.
“It helps me with coaching, understanding the science,” Bondarchuk says. “Because of my education, I have wider ideas, not just in sport but in science. It really helps as a teacher.”
It’s this learning and this knowledge that helps make Bondarchuk such a strong coach.
Because technique and form are such large parts of the act of throwing, finding a way to teach a student how to consistently perform a quality throw is the key to Bondarchuk’s work.
“When I showed up, he looked at me, and told me I was changing X, Y, Z, A, B, C and D,” Frizell says. “He kind of took it all apart and told me what he wanted me to do.”
‘BEST AT WHAT HE DOES’
As much as he would like to keep doing this forever, Bondarchuk knows that he won’t, he can’t.
Most 69-year-old men are retired and living the high life, not still plying their crafts.
“I don’t know how long (I’ll keep doing this),” Bondarchuk says. “Five years more, maybe. Maybe.”
It’s the potential he sees that continues to drive him.
Armstrong turned 28 in January, and will be coming into his peak age in London.
Frizell is only 24, and has a lot of good years ahead of her, as do Joyce, VanderVliett, Smith and the rest of Bondarchuk’s projects.
Through nearly five years in Kamloops, he’s still happy as a clam to be here.
“Everything is good,” he says. “Good city, good people, good life, good job. Everything is fantastic.”
His athletes are glad to have him. Armstrong, who was one of the reasons Bondarchuk found his way to Kamloops, said he wouldn’t be where he is now without Dr. B.
“He’s added everything to me,” says Armstrong, who finished fourth at the DN Galan Super Grand Prix in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday with a throw of 20.42m. “Since I’ve been training with him I’ve probably added one or two metres to my throws.
“I trust everything he tells me — he’s the best at what he does.”