Although he competes in an event that attracts little attention, Dylan Armstrong has solidified himself as one of the world's finest shot putters this year.
The 29-year-old arrived at the University of Toronto to compete in the 2010 Canadian track and field championship, which begins Wednesday night.
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the native of Kamloops, B.C., unleashed a superb Canadian-record effort of 21.04 metres, coming within one centimetre of the bronze medal.
'Cutting it close'
As he traveled through Europe the past two months while competing in some of the more prestigious and financially lucrative competitions, Canadian shot putter Dylan Armstrong has missed the company of his best friend — 800m runner Gary Reed.
They were high school teammates.
Reed and his coach Wynn Gmitrowski decided to skip the rest of the season and take a break before training hard for next year's world championship in Daegu, Korea.
The runner is also in the middle of wedding plans, with Armstrong as his best man.
"I will be cutting it close to making his wedding," Armstrong admits. "I am coming back from Europe and I think I get in two hours before the wedding. I will miss the rehearsal. But I have got a game plan: I actually have a private plane arranged to take me from Calgary to Kelowna, B.C., believe it or not. My buddy is a pilot."
That achievement caught everyone by surprise. Since when does a thrower appear at the ultimate sporting contest and record a personal best?
Rather than dwell on his heartbreaking disappointment, Armstrong was out the next morning training at 7:30 a.m., with his eye on improving distance.
But he failed to qualify for the IAAF world championship final last summer, a bitterly disappointing result.
However, A hard winter of training has paid off handsomely and now he is throwing better than ever, exceeding 21m no less than nine times.
His Canadian record now stands at 21.58m - an enormous improvement in one year.
"I think there's a couple of reasons for it," he explains. "It's not a championship year and I have kind of been working solely on my technique with "Dr. B" and just trying to get my technique better for next year and the year after for the London Olympics."
Armstrong is referring to his coach, Dr. Anotoliy Bondarchuk, the 1972 Olympic hammer throw champion and coach of the legendary Olympic champion and world hammer throw record holder, Yuriy Sedekh. It was Bondarchuk who took a promising young hammer thrower and told him the shot put was his best event. The pair has never looked back.
"I keep in really good communication with Dr. B even when I am over in Europe," Armstrong says. "We set some goals for the competitions and then I speak to him afterwards. I have been coming back and forth to Europe so many times this year and that has helped. Go to Europe come back to Dr. B and train. We have always got a game plan."
This newfound jet-set lifestyle is due to some private sponsors who have invested in Armstrong's 2012 Olympic dream as well as a Nike endorsement contract. There's no flash in Armstrong's lifestyle. Every penny finances his primary objective: getting onto the podium in London.
"I am 29 now," he declares. "I am hoping to peak at London and then, who knows after that, I could possibly throw until I'm thirty-five but obviously the main goal is to get onto the podium in London."
This weekend Armstrong will have little competition at the Canadian championship. After the many European meets he's competed in, where he is earning thousands of dollars, the national championship offers little more than an opportunity to honour an agreement with the federation that has helped support him.
He's thrown more than two metres further than his clubmate, Justin Rodhe, who is ranked second in the country at 19.52m. As a requirement of Athletics Canada's athlete assistance program, Armstrong must show up at the national championship. It seems like a waste of time for an athlete of his calibre. But athletes hoping to compete in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India must participate.
World Cup focus
Armstrong's focus this season is on the IAAF World Cup in Split, Croatia from September 3rd to 4th. He is keeping his mind open to the Commonwealth Games. Asked if we might see a 21m throw on Canadian soil, he hesitates to answer.
"It is obviously a trial," he says, "Because the level of competition needs to get better I am going to be training through nationals in preparation for the Stockholm Diamond League meet, August 3rd. But it's always great to be in front of a Canadian crowd and hopefully that pushes me to do well.
"I am really worn down right now. I have been beating up my body quite hard so I just don't know what I can throw. It varies all the time. I am throwing heavy implements. I think anything over 20.70m would be good for this time."
After the nationals, Armstrong immediately heads back to Europe where he has several more competitions lined up. Eventually, and before he retires, he would like to throw over 22m.
"I would just like to stay consistent and see what happens from there," he declares. "For me it's all abut placing well in the Diamond League meets this season and then I will get into the winter season and hopefully get some bigger distances. Twenty-two metres is definitely a possibility. Absolutely."