Ethan Katzberg set another personal best on Monday in Budapest, Hungary; the day after his massive 81.25-metre hammer throw sent shockwaves through the World Athletics Championships.
“I think I’ve done more interviews today and yesterday than I have in my whole entire life, combined,” said the unassuming 21-year-old world champion, who was fresh from receiving his gold at the medal ceremony.
The hammer throw is a big deal in Hungary — local hero Bence Halasz won the bronze on Sunday — and Katzberg was in high demand from assembled media who wanted to know how the youngster from Nanaimo, B.C. has added almost 12 metres to his personal best in just two years.
His top throw in 2021 was just 69.75m. Had he done that in Budapest, he would have finished 31st in qualifying and missed the 12-man final. Even a year ago, his longest throw was 76.36m, which would have given him eighth place in Sunday’s showdown.
What’s more, the top 10 throws of Katzberg’s competitive career have all come since March. By way of contrast, silver medalist Wojciech Nowicki’s top 10 comprises throws from 2018, ’19, ’21, ’22 and this year. And bronze medalist Halasz’s came in 2017, ’18, ’20, ’22 and this year.
How on earth has Katzberg gotten so good, so fast?
“That’s the question everybody has been asking,” said his coach Dylan Armstrong. “Honestly, it’s a combination of many things. He’s got a really good head on his shoulders; he’s a mature individual and athlete; he’s tall, he’s fast, he’s got really long levers; he’s really regimented with his training and he listens to everything I say.”
Armstrong, an Olympic bronze medalist in shot-put, established a throwing centre in Kamloops, B.C. several years ago, in co-operation with his former personal coach, Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk.
“We’ve got a really good system in place,” continued Armstrong. “We’ve got great facilities where we are in Canada, top-notch support from the community and the city and our federation and I think it’s just a big combination of everything.”
Three years ago, Armstrong told Katzberg’s father Bernie that he thought he could get Ethan to the 80-metre threshold.
“I said I just have this good feeling that I can get him there and three years later he’s throwing it. So it’s a surprise and it’s not. It’s been awesome.”
Along the way, Katzberg has collected a Commonwealth Games silver medal, a Diamond League title, a Canadian championship and national record and now the world championship gold. He’s headed for the Pan Am Games in Chile in October and will naturally be among the favourites, if not the outright favourite, to hit the top of the podium at the Paris Olympics in July 2024.
“I don’t know if I’m the favourite, but it’s going to be very exciting,” Katzberg said. “I’m just going to try to continue to grow as an athlete and see what comes.”
He said much of the credit for his success has to go to his coaches.
“Dylan and Dr. B set me up for this very, very well.”
Not to mention, very, very quickly. Katzberg is the youngest world champion in the history of the event and was the youngest thrower in Sunday’s final, where the average age was 28 and the eldest competitor 34. Adam Keenan, a 29-year-old from Victoria, B.C., finished 11th while 23-year-old Rowan Hamilton of Chilliwack, B.C. was 13th and just missed out on the final.
Two months ago, Katzberg said he felt like “a poseur” when competing against men he had watched for years. But on Monday, having beaten all three medalists from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics — Nowicki, Norway’s Eivind Henriksen and Poland’s Pawel Fajdek — Katzberg said he’s “now part of the hammer crew.”
Whether comfortable or not in those high-pressure scenarios, Katzberg has established a history of coming up large when it matters. That’s why Armstrong isn’t worried about his protégé having to carry a world title into an Olympic year.
“We’re going to take the same kind of approach next year that we took this year and I think Ethan can handle himself pretty well. He’s a rare combination, he’s a very laid back guy, but when he wants to turn it on, he can turn it on. It’s going to add a little bit more pressure, for sure, especially after winning a gold medal at the world championships and being very young, only 21, that’s absolutely unheard of. “Especially because this is a man’s event. This isn’t a boy’s event on the world stage.”
Katzberg had the top two throws in the final — 81.11m and his new Canadian record of 81.25m — and beat Nowicki by 23 centimetres.
When asked if Katzberg knows how good he can be, Armstrong laughed.
“No, he doesn’t, which is a good thing. He has no clue. There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a young guy, just motoring along and having fun doing what he’s doing.”
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