It all happened in the blink of an eye for hammer thrower Ethan Katzberg.
The Nanaimo, B.C., native enjoyed a breakout season for the ages in 2023. From a 76-metre thrower with a Commonwealth Games silver in 2022, Katzberg became a Canadian, world, and Pan American Games champion this year, smashing records along the way.
“It came up pretty quick for me,” the 21-year-old said. “It was just, you know, I was kind of in the mix and then all of a sudden I was at the top of the mix, which is pretty unbelievable for me.”
“Coming off of Commonwealth, we had a good debrief and the goal was to try and get him to another level,” Katzberg’s coach Dylan Armstrong added.
“Our goal is to try and win and stay on top.”
The credit, Katzberg says, goes to Armstrong, the 2008 Olympic shot put bronze medallist from Kamloops, B.C.
“That's thanks to some really great coaching and determination on my end, as well as Dylan's end and just putting in some really good work,” Katzberg said. “How much more could I have asked for this season in regards to results and all of that.”
Katzberg hadn’t thrown 79 metres before the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary back in August. He won nationals in July with a then-personal best of 78.73.
But he shattered James Steacy’s national record of 79.13 from 2008, with an 81.18 in the qualifying round at worlds before upping that mark to 81.25 in the final. He currently owns the top three national bests, including his Pan Am record of 80.96 last Saturday.
Katzberg made history as the youngest men’s hammer throw world champion, the youngest medallist ever in the event, and the first Canadian man to reach the podium in the event at worlds.
His skill in timing his peak performance sets him apart — an achievement many track and field athletes aspire to but often struggle to accomplish.
Armstrong notes that it's part of the same program he learned from his former coach, Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk, an Olympic champion hammer thrower from Ukraine.
“Obviously I'm very grateful that I've had the opportunity to be able to work with Dr. B for so many years and learn a system that was never done or thought of in the (Western world),” said Armstrong, who added that the 83-year-old Bondarchuk still checks on Katzberg’s progress.
“We use central nervous system training. As long as he is at a good state, a good condition, it doesn't really matter what month it is. … It's all reaction based. I know his reaction very, very well. I know what sessions are good for him, I know the sessions that aren't and so when the coach knows that and the athlete knows that, it goes in your favour.”
“It can be complex, and also you need the right athlete to be able to deal with,” the 42-year-old Armstrong added. “It's not going to work for everybody because you have to be extremely disciplined and you have to be in a regimen and that's tough for some people. They just can't commit to it. It definitely holds you accountable when you're training like this as well.”
Katzberg’s world gold, followed by another from Camryn Rogers, 24, of Richmond, B.C., in the women’s hammer throw and the world silver from shot putter Sarah Mitton of Brooklyn, N.S., led to Canada being referred to as a throwing nation.
Katzberg and Rogers, who is a three-time NCAA champion and two-time world medallist, have helped place B.C. on the world throwing map.
“They all have different coaches and I think, though, it starts with, (what) I call the British Columbia family hammer tree,” Armstrong said. “Everybody's branched off of someone and we've just had a good traditional history here of hammer throwing from many, many years ago and everyone knows each other, everyone shares knowledge and information.
“We want to help each other out and, you know, I’ve literally watched it grow from the time I was just a young boy. It's definitely exciting to see. We're all happy, we're finally putting our province on the map on a world stage.”
Katzberg only started doing the hammer throw seven years ago. He's come a long way from the skinny basketball player with untapped potential that Armstrong spotted at a local high school meet and brought to Kamloops for training three years ago
Transitioning from the underdog role, the six-foot-six Katzberg now gears up for the 2024 Paris Olympics, fully aware that he has a target on his back.
“It is pretty crazy that I'll be going into the Olympics at 22 as a favourite,” he said. “That's pretty ridiculous to me, but it's exciting.
“Again, that's some great coaching and direction from Dylan and Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk, his previous coach and I guess my mentor now. They've been really great and I wouldn't have had any idea what I'd be getting into if it weren't for them, … going into worlds or Pan Ams."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2023.
Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press