When the Pan American Games kicked off last Friday, Oct. 14 in Guadalajara, Mexico, Sultana Frizell was again not there for the start of a major event in her sport.
But this time, it was only because the Ottawa Lions women’s hammer thrower’s competition comes later on the Pan Am program, falling on her birthday, Oct. 24, so there was no need to arrive too far in advance.
Earlier this season, however, Frizell missed out on the most important event before the 2012 London Olympics when she had to watch the Aug. 27-Sept. 4 IAAF world athletics championships from home.
“It was heartbreaking for me,” Frizell says. “For about a week, I was walking around like someone had kicked my puppy.”
The 27-year-old thought she had achieved the qualifying standard required to compete in the worlds, but she discovered at the last moment that her throw that covered the necessary distance had come just before the official qualification period opened.
With barely a week before the qualifying window closed, and experiencing some major struggles with her form at the time, Frizell couldn’t pull off the standard in a last-ditch attempt.
It was tough to watch the competitors she knows so well competing on an Internet feed early in the morning instead of standing beside them in South Korea, but eventually it caused her to return to training with renewed fire.
And one day – after struggling for nearly a full year to get back into the kind of shape that saw her finish in the top-10 at the 2009 world championships – it suddenly clicked again when her Ukrainian coach said the word “around” and a single throw pointed her back on the right track.
The former University of Georgia athlete has been throwing good distances with her heavier training equipment in practice, and is excited to see what will happen once she fires the four-kilogram ball at the Pan Am Games.
It won’t be an easy task up against five more of the world’s top-20 ranked hammer throwers in the Pan Am region, but the goal, she says, is to win a medal.
Frizell, along with shot put world silver medalist Dylan Armstrong, is one of a very small number of top Canadian track-and-field athletes competing in Mexico since most felt the Pan Ams – which are being held about two months later than usual in steamy Guadalajara – would interfere with their preparation for the London Olympics next summer.
“I’ve heard that runners like to do their ‘base training’ in the winter, so I guess for them I understand why they’d miss it,” says Frizell, who tries not to think much about the Olympics because it can distract from the every-day goals required to be in top form. “I’m not too sure exactly what base training means, I think they run up hills a whole bunch or something, but I’m a thrower – there’s no way in hell I’m running up hills, so Pan Am Games is no problem for me.”
Frizell, who now lives at the national team’s throws centre in Kamloops, B.C., a city that reminds her of Perth with a friendly country vibe to it, looks at the Pan Am Games as a good opportunity to get some more experience in a multi-sport setting.
The fourth-place finisher from the 2007 Pan Am Games remembers having intestinal problems owing to the local food while in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, so she plans to pack plenty of her own food this time.
“I’m really excited for the Pan Ams,” says Frizell, who’s looking forward to seeing an old friend of hers from Perth, judoka Nicholas Tritton, and hopes to celebrate a medal win along with her birthday after the competition.
Loads of Ottawa athletes head to Guadalajara
Canada is sending a young team to the Pan Am Games, the world’s largest multi-sport event of the 2011 with around 6,000 athletes from 42 countries competing in 36 sports, and representatives from the nation’s capital reflect that overall picture.
Roughly 60 per cent of the athletes from the Ottawa area are age 22 or younger, including seven that are under 19.
Former Nepean-Corona gymnast Talia Chiarelli, whose family now lives in Boston since her father Peter is general manager of the Boston Bruins, is the youngest of the group at age 16, and represents another one of the region’s best medal bets along with Frizell.
The Canadian artistic gymnastics team is fresh off an 11th-place result at the world championships in Tokyo and will look to improve on their bronze medal performance from the 2007 Pan Ams.
The oldest Canadian competitor at age 64 is equestrian show jumping legend Ian Millar of Perth, who owns three gold, four silver and two bronze medals from previous Pan Am Games, dating back to the 1979 Games in Puerto Rico.
Other notable medal contenders from the region include John Conway and Aaron Feltham of the Canadian men’s water polo team, Rideau Canoe Club members Kristin Gauthier and Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny in canoe-kayak, Ottawa Fury players Rachelle Beanlands and Christina Julien of the Canadian women’s soccer team, and the Ottawa Excalibur’s Sherraine Schalm in fencing.
Other local athletes competing at the Pan Am Games include Michael Robertson (athletics), Ashton Baumann (swimming), Karyn Jewell (swimming), Stephan Wojcikiewicz (badminton), Chris Bisson (baseball), Tyson Hinz (basketball), Cole Hobin (basketball), Phil Scrubb (basketball), Kellie Ring (basketball), Kadie Riverin (basketball), Jill Henselwood (equestrian), Selena O’Hanlon (equestrian), Kelleigh Ryan (fencing), Mo Zhang (table tennis), Pradeeban Peter-Paul (table tennis), Pierre-Luc Hinse (table tennis), Pierre-Luc Thériault (table tennis), Gabriela Dabrowski (tennis), Samantha Cornett (squash) and Melanie McCann (modern pentathlon).