Friday August 22, 2014






She's throwing for two: Kamloops hammer thrower aims for Olympics despite being pregnant

Hugo Yuen

Crystal Smith, seen practising last fall.

Some athletes get so focused on their dreams that nothing can derail them.

Crystal Smith, who wants to go to the London Olympics this summer, is one of those athletes.

Smith, a hammer thrower who trains at Kamloops' National Throws Centre, is nearly 38 weeks pregnant with her first child. The baby — neither Smith nor husband Kibwé Johnson, the 2011 U.S. hammer throw champion, knows its gender — is due to be born April 30.

If there ever was such a thing as terrible timing, Smith's pregnancy is it.

She has spent more than three years working toward to the London Olympics, and the news of her pregnancy came along at almost the worst possible time.

"I was upset," admitted the 31-year-old Creston native. "When (Johnson and I) moved here in 2008, we had the 2012 Olympics in mind. That was the only reason we committed for another four years . . . so to find out was not good news."

But that's not to say that Smith isn't overjoyed with the pending arrival. It's just going to make it that much tougher to realize her Olympic dream, one that has consumed her life for more than a decade.

After graduating from high school in 1999, Smith studied and competed at North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene and then the University of Wyoming in Laramie. She eventually transferred to Ohio's Ashland University, where she met Johnson, an Oakland native.

The couple moved to Kamloops in September 2008 for one reason — to train under renowned throws coach Anatoly Bondarchuk.

With all that history and effort, Smith, the 2006 Canadian champion, didn't want to give up her Olympic dream.

She spoke to doctors, who told her that she would be able to train into the late stages of the pregnancy.

"I came here with (the Olympics) in mind, and I figured I've got to at least try," Smith said. "This has been my life for the past 13 years."

The Canadian Olympics trials — also the Canadian championships — are scheduled for June 25-27 in Calgary. Female hammer throwers have to hit 71.50 metres and finish in the top three to qualify for London.

And that weekend — only eight weeks after the expected due date — is front and centre in Smith's mind. She continues to train hard, although she takes off the occasional day if she isn't feeling well.

Of course, training in late-stage pregnancy is a little different than training under normal circumstances.

"My recovery isn't as good, but my technique is better," Smith said, with a laugh. "I can't focus on distance and the intensity isn't as high, so I can focus on good technical throwing.

"So when it's time to train postpartum, that technique should be drilled in."

At this point in the proceedings, Smith can't throw the heavy weights she normally would. The competition hammer weighs 8.8 pounds — she would often train with lighter or heavier hammers than that.

Right now, she's training with a 7.5-pound hammer created by Bondarchuk. The coach took a five-pound weight and attached it to a 2.5-pound weight, along with two wires, just for safety's sake.

"He's never trained a pregnant lady, so he's very conservative about it," Smith said. "He wrapped the two wires and attached them to the handle because he was really concerned about the wires breaking."

People are amazed to learn that Smith is still training hard at this point.

"They're shocked," Smith said. "Kibwé posted a video (on YouTube) . . . on Monday and I can't believe how many people watched it. On the first day, there were more than 1,000 views.

"Even our friends (in the athletics world) . . . when they see the video, they're like, 'Whaaaaat?' "

Training while pregnant is one thing. Training after having a baby is a completely different beast.

With so many factors involved, Smith has no idea when she'll be able to start training post-birth. She's optimistic it will be within two weeks.

She has taken the advice of American discus thrower Aretha Thurmond, who had a baby in-season and competed at the 2007 U.S. championships a few weeks later.

Smith called Thurmond in January.

"She trained up to her 38th week . . . but I might train longer as long as it feels good," Smith said. "She had her first training session four days after she had her baby — she said, 'I don't suggest that.'

"But she had to compete 19 days later — I have more time . . . but it's going to depend on how the delivery goes."

That is just one of the many questions at this point, but Smith is "hoping and praying" the child comes a little early — but not too early.

Johnson, who is ranked No. 4 in the world in men's hammer, is scheduled to compete in the Mount Sac Relays in Walnut, Calif., on April 21. He also is slated to head to Japan, Brazil and Czech Republic in May.

Smith, on the other hand, has no idea whether she'll be able to get back to the level she was at before the pregnancy. She threw a personal best (69.50m) in late August and felt she was on the right path.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Smith said. "Am I going to be competitive?"

mhunter@kamloopsnews.ca


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