By Dan Plouffe
The two-time defending Commonwealth Games women’s hammer throw champion finished the always-dreaded one spot off the podium in 4th place, but at least Sultana Frizell didn’t have to contend with farm animals stealing her equipment when she competed in Gold Coast, Australia on Apr. 10.
That’s been a daily concern for the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club athlete who recently moved back home to the family farm in Perth, where her dad got a throwing circle installed in the backyard.
“He basically called up a buddy, who put a 10×10 pad in the backyard so I could throw to the pastureland,” explains Frizell, who quickly discovered that the barnyard beasts aren’t always the biggest fans of her hammer tools. “They think it’s a toy: ‘OK, now I’m going to play with it, and run off with it.’ And I go, ‘OK, but just so you know, you’re on my plate come winter.’”
Based in Kamloops, B.C. for much of her career, the 33-year-old came back to the area to be closer to her aging parents. Frizell’s mother suffered a serious aneurysm in 2012, but the woman who drove Frizell in to Ottawa most days for practices as a teenager remains an inspirational force in the 2-time Olympian’s career.
That includes Frizell’s latest pursuit: the Highland Games. This summer, Frizell plans to trade the international hammer circuit for many of the most prominent Canadian Highland Games stops. She’s confirmed events in Victoria (her season debut on Victoria Day weekend), Calgary, Antigonish, N.S. and closer to home in Glengarry and Trenton.
“It’s kind of paying homage to my mom,” signals Frizell, who thanks her mom for her loud and proud personality. “With her being in a home, she doesn’t really understand what I’m doing (for Highland Games), but when I go and show her a video of me tossing an 18-foot caber, she loses her mind. She just loves it.”
Frizell tried her hand at the Scottish-inspired Games last summer and immediately fell in love with a sport that suited her style like a kilt on a bagpiper.
“At Highland Games, you just go out there and throw the most random things and it’s just so much fun,” Frizell describes. “It’s like you’re a kid again: ‘I’m gonna take this rock and see how many times I can skip it.’
“It all makes no sense. It’s weird skills. I enjoy that you’re gonna take this pitchfork and throw this bag over a bar, or take this weight and chuck it like a discus but also not rip your arm off at the same time.
“I have no idea why they threw these things, or what the benefit of it was. I think it must have started at the local pub, and one guy’s like, ‘Hey man, I can throw this thing farther than you can.’ And then the other guy’s like, ‘F— you, buddy, no you can’t!’
“I think of the Highland Games as like an epic bar brawl, and everybody has their own set of implements, and all over the world, they’re like, I’m gonna have everyone over at this meet, but I can throw this better because I’ve practiced with it and you haven’t.
“I enjoy how barbaric it is. But it’s a league of kilted gentlemen.”
Break time before Olympic push
Following several years of injuries hampering her throwing, Frizell plans to take “a bit of a breather” from hammer after the Commonwealth Games, which she expects were her last. The Canadian athletics team captain had hoped to surpass last year’s season best throw of 68.01 metres in Gold Coast, but had to settle for 63.94 m – 1.09 m out of 3rd place and 6 m behind champion Julia Radcliffe of New Zealand.
“I am 33. I’m not the spring chicken out there in the field any more,” smiles Frizell, who was nonetheless pleased to enter the competition healthy. She gave thanks to her medical team for their ability “to put the Mr. Potatohead parts back together again.”
Canada’s Glasgow 2014 Closing Ceremonies flag bearer had expected her Commonwealth Games record to fall in Australia, though it remains intact at 71.97 m.
The Canadian record holder and reigning national champ does plan to compete when the Canadian Track-and-Field Championships return to the Terry Fox Athletic Facility in Ottawa from July 5-8. She plans to continue training for hammer throw, just not competing on the international circuit.
That’s partly the product of losing her national carding financial assistance, which has also led her to work more frequently at the Perth Physiotherapy Clinic.
Frizell will soon get to spend more time training at the national team’s centre in Toronto, however, since she’ll be starting classes May 1 at the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy. The University of Georgia grad wants to increase her insurable certifications through the intensive 15-month program.
“Then I’ve got a whole year before Tokyo,” adds Frizell, who wants to push for a third Olympic appearance in 2020 after missing Rio 2016.
But a big part of the drive for Tokyo is just to have another fun experience.
“I love Japan,” highlights Frizell, who’s visited briefly before for hammer competitions. “They’ve got a whole bunch of weird sh– I didn’t get enough time to do.”
Bronze bonanza for local Commonwealth crew
Ottawa athletes had bagged 5 bronze medals come the Sportspage’s print deadline at the midway point of the Apr. 4-15 Commonwealth Games.
Triathlete Joanna Brown notched Canada’s first medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, recording the fastest run time in the field to move up onto the podium.
“I kicked as hard as I could for the finish and came away with the bronze. I’m just so happy,” Brown, who was injured in a bike crash at a World Triathlon Series event on Mar. 3, said in a news release. “It has been a really chaotic month after fracturing my shoulder in Abu Dhabi, and then just trying to make it back to this race. I have the most amazing support team behind me helping me out, and incredible teammates to get me through this. I was just so happy to be here, to race, and even just to finish the race.”
Track cyclists Ariane Bonhomme and Derek Gee also scored bronze medals on the opening day of competition from their respective women’s and men’s team pursuit races.
“One spot better than 4 years ago and 13 seconds faster, so everyone’s really excited about that,” said 20-year-old Gee, who made his international multi-sport games debut in Gold Coast. “It’s just unreal to be a medalist at the Commonwealth Games.”
Tim Nedow was outside of a medal position in the men’s shotput event – bunched up in a strong top-6 group who all threw over 20.5 m – until he launched a season-best bomb of 20.91 m on his final attempt to move up for bronze.
“I was pretty pumped up (before the last throw), I wasn’t nervous at all. I had to go for it,” recounted the 27-year-old Ottawa Lion. “I’m pretty happy with how that turned out.”
After finishing 4th as a 19-year-old at Glasgow 2014, swimmer Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson scored the first major senior international individual medal of her career in the women’s 200 m medley.
“The time wasn’t really what I wanted,” said the Nepean-Kanata Barracudas/Greater-Ottawa Kingfish product who placed 3rd in 2:11.74. “But at the same time, I did everything I could to get to the wall, so I’m happy.”
There remained a number of local medal threats in the final days of the Games.
Current Commonwealth and Olympic champ Erica Wiebe entered the women’s freestyle wrestling competition as the favourite, while Olympic bronze medallist Natasha Watcham-Roy and the Canadian women’s rugby sevens team perennially occupy the international podium.
Sam Cornett was into the squash women’s doubles quarter-finals, while Canada’s men’s and women’s basketball teams reached the medal round, set to face New Zealand and England respectively in their semi-finals.
The Canadian women’s basketball team includes Carleton Ravens graduating national champ Catherine Traer and high schooler Merissah Russell, while the men’s side features University of Ottawa Gee-Gee Jean Emmanuel Pierre-Charles and the Ravens’ Munis Tutu.
Ottawa natives Segun Makinde (athletics) and Eli Wall (swimming) also represented Canada at the Games.