Big man ready to take to big stage

Armstrong goes after Olympic medal in London on Friday

Dylan Armstrong might be the closest thing thing the Canadian Olympic track and field team has to a celebrity.

Everywhere he goes these days, Armstrong is a draw. A big deal. The man.

And that hasn't changed now that he's in London to compete in the Olympics, which started Friday. And it won't have changed once he competes in the shot put tomorrow, a long day that includes qualifying in the morning and the final in the evening.

Armstrong is 31 years old, born and raised in Kamloops. He was a football and track star while attending Westsyde Secondary, and has been competing at international track and field events for more than 10 years.

But Armstrong's fame really started to grow at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he threw 21.04 metres to finish fourth, missing out on a medal by one centimetre. His face - still smiling, despite the close call - was in the pages of newspapers across the country.

Things continued to snowball from there, as he won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, in 2010, silver at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and gold at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. He also set a Canadian record (22.21m) in winning the 2011 Canadian championships in Calgary.

Now, he's a hot item. His face adorns posters advertising events and everyone wants to know about him - what he eats, how he travels and how he dealt with missing an Olympic medal by the width of a fingernail.

"People are going to ask questions and be interested because I'm a big guy," says the 6-foot-4, 345-pound Armstrong. "Shot put is an event that's quite different from all the other events and I think I'm doing a pretty good job of trying to get it out there and promote it and hopefully more and more people get involved in it."

But with fame comes recognition and with recognition comes pressure.

In most of the Canadian media's prognostications, Armstrong is seen as a gold-medal hopeful, despite a deep shot put field that includes reigning world champion David Storl of Germany and 2008 Olympic champ Tomasz Majewski of Poland.

But this is what Armstrong has been working for since that August day in Beijing in 2008. He has bounced all over the globe to different events, cramming his big frame into small airplane seats in hopes of getting as much competition as he can, and getting the best competition he can.

By this point, pressure may be just a word to Armstrong.

"I think I handle it pretty well," he says. "Just as I get older and more experienced, being in those meets almost every weekend from April to September definitely helps.

"I know what I have to do when I do my job, and it's strictly business."

And in that business, preparation is a key.

Day in and day out, coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk has been putting the big man through the paces, trying to get him ready for the biggest meet of his career.

Bondarchuk can't do much when his athlete is in the throwing circle, so it's up to Armstrong.

"You've got to be prepared for any situation - weather, different surfaces, interruptions, officiating, everything," Armstrong says. "As long as you're prepared, there's never really a problem."

And as much as there is going on around Armstrong, he remains focused.

Focused, just as he has been pretty much every day since the start of 2004, when he decided to change sports, going from hammer throw to shot put. It was a gutsy move, especially considering Armstrong won the Canadian hammer championship three times and was less than a metre from breaking the national record.

That's in the past - for the better part of the last decade, Armstrong's life has been dictated by a 16-pound ball of iron and attempting to throw it as far as he can.

"I've put everything into it, and I've made a lot of sacrifices," he says. "Everything - I've put everything on the line, but I love to do it and it's a great lifestyle and I definitely don't want to stop right now."

mhunter@kamloopsnews.ca

LET'S THROW!

Three Kamloops-based athletes will be in action Friday at the London Olympics.

Canadian shot put champion Dylan Armstrong and Justin Rodhe will start at 2 a.m. PT with qualifying. If they go through, the final is to begin at 12:30 p.m.

Kibwe Johnson, the U.S. men's hammer throw champion, will be involved in qualifying at 3:20 a.m. The hammer throw final is on Sunday, 3:20 a.m.

© Copyright 2018 Kamloops Daily News