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Bringing the hammer down: A masters athlete comes up against Olympic hopefuls

Christine Dalgleish writes about what is was like to see records broken in front of her eyes
Christine Dalgleish, 60, doing a turn in weight throw similar to the turn used for hammer throw at the BC Masters Track & Field Championships in Kelowna on June 28, 2024.

I am a goofy masters athlete who throws things at track & field meets every now and then.

Most recently I had the most unexpected stop-you-in-your-tracks, take-your-breath-and-rip-it-out-of-your-lungs kind of experience few athletes could ever hope to have – especially at 60 years old.

I attended the BC Masters Track & Field Championships in Kelowna from June 28 to 30 with 94 other masters athletes and 442 young athletes, like the ones you’d expect at a track meet, who participated in the Jack Brow Memorial Meet. The masters piggybacked on the major event and it was so great to see all those young sporty types doing their thing.

That’s when the most incredible thing happened. The senior athletes between 20-34 years old – not to be confused with the masters athletes 35+ years – were grouped together with the masters and suddenly I was throwing hammer with some of the world’s best at the Apple Stadium. It was Sunday, the last day of the Olympic qualifiers, and we had four Olympic hopefuls throwing with us to try to achieve the Olympic standard of 74 metres in the women’s hammer throw. Did I say Olympic enough in that sentence?

But just think about it for a second. Me, 60, throwing hammer – usually with a huge grin on my face because it’s fun for me – with those elite athletes whose grit and determination was written all over their faces, their fate literally being flung out of their hands at a high velocity trying to lock in that invitation to the world’s biggest athletic contest.

The atmosphere was charged with such intensity you could feel it like a rain shower.

I, for once in my throwing life, shut up (mostly) and just watched in awe.

Let’s put things in perspective. I don’t even throw my hammer 30 metres. These beautiful athletes were throwing between 67 and 72 metres. They came from the States, Toronto, Australia and BC and they were magnificent.

In the big leagues the part of the cage closest to the throwing field, is a hinged contraption set on wheels. It’s moved in so that only the throwing zone is exposed to the high-powered throws narrowing the gap you throw through by an intimidating margin. Nobody can throw out of bounds in the field so if you’re not in the sector it hits the netting around the cage. You feel like you’re in a cocoon. So weird.

Five turns is the norm for these fantastically talented throwers. I counted. Again for perspective, I have one turn and it’s wonky most days.

I watched as the hammers landed at the end of the field where the experienced officials would race to where it landed to mark its distance. The officials had their work cut out for them and they were brilliant. And I watched with my mouth hanging open at the surreal distances these ladies were achieving.

I watched their feet in the circle as they spun five times, then I watched the trajectory of their release. I just took it all in.

And there were other fabulous things happening during the competition too. There were five other masters athletes throwing their best along with me, the doddler. Yes, I doddle. I admit it.

We had two women masters hammer throwers break Canadian records right in front of my eyes. They didn’t just break these records, they smashed them to smithereens and I got to watch that too. I got to cheer for them like crazy, give high fives and witness the excellence in the circle over and over again and it was a real privilege to be part of it.

Finally, I got to say a few quiet words to one Olympic hopeful. She was tall and glowing with youth and health and determination and exuded this light that could not be quelled. She came to stand beside me and she leaned in just a tiny bit and our shoulders brushed. I took that as my cue to speak to her. I told her it was a pleasure to watch her throw and she was truly amazing. She smiled, with her head bent because I was tiny compared to her and she humbly accepted the compliment.

I wanted to say more gushy things but I knew that even though she was standing beside me, in her mind’s eye she was already in the circle making her next attempt at greatness. She didn’t even realize how her influence had already washed over all the other athletes around her and we were all just basking in the glow of youth and ambition and hope.

It was fantastic. I loved every minute of it and I appreciate everyone putting up with the athlete that walked around just happy to be there and soaking it all in.

I am one grateful masters thrower to have had those few moments with those star hammer throwers who threw so high the hammer seemed to get lost in the clouds.

I wish them all the greatest success. They deserve all the accolades they will get for their efforts now and in the future.

P.S. I just checked in on these incredible athletes and two of the throwers I was on the roster with are now on the list of hopefuls that may receive a World Athletics Invitation to the Olympics in Paris. As it was explained to me there is a way to get that invitation for points accumulated at meets and their consistently amazing throws distances, without having met the 74-metre standard. They will get the good word by July 7. My fingers, toes, ankles, eyes and elbows are crossed for them.

Christine Dalgleish is a Citizen reporter and masters athlete.