Dylan Armstrong aimed high when he set his goal for this season.
The thrower from Kamloops, B.C., wanted to be the best in the world, and he wanted to be considerably better than anybody else.
What might have seemed like wishful thinking six months ago has all but become a reality for the Canadian, who takes a No. 1 shot put ranking into the world track and field championships that begin Saturday in Daegu, South Korea.
“I sat down with my coach and said, ‘I basically want to get away from this group, I want to get into a high level where ... not that I'm untouchable, but where I will be highly, highly competitive. I want to pull away,“’ Armstrong said recently.
The 30-year-old is the favourite to claim what would be Canada's first-ever world shot put title. He launched the season's world leading throw of 22.21 metres and also tops the prestigious Diamond League standings.
A victory in Daegu would be a big step toward his ultimate goal of Olympic gold next summer in London.
Armstrong finished fourth three years ago at the Beijing Games, missing the podium by less than a centimetre. He sat in second in the early rounds before eventually falling out of the medals when American Christian Cantwell passed him with his sixth and final throw.
“It's always motivation to be that close. There's nothing that I could have done better, I put everything on the line. I prepared, I had a Canadian record, it just played out that I got fourth and lost by a centimetre,” he said. “I'm going to do whatever I can not to let it happen again.”
Armstrong credits this season's rise in the ranks to a complex training program under renowned throws coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk, and the fact he's maturing in the sport. The beefy six-foot-four, 310-pound Armstrong said throwers get stronger with age.
“You just need to put in your time. It's one of those events where you have to be very mature physically and you've just got to be able to handle that weight, be confident with it,” said Armstrong, who switched from the hammer throw to shot put when he was 24.
Athletics Canada is all but counting on Armstrong to claim one of the two medals its set as a goal from its 32-member team in Daegu.
Others capable of reaching the podium are former world champion Perdita Felicien of Pickering, Ont., in the 100-metre hurdles, hepathlete Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., who was fifth at the Beijing Olympics, and the men's 4x100-metre relay. Felicien is seeded seventh, while Zelinka and the relay team are eighth.
The relay team will be chosen from Bryan Barnett of Edmonton, Jared Connaughton of New Haven, P.E.I., Saff Effah of Calgary, Gavin Smellie of Toronto, Seyi Smith of Ottawa, and Justyn Warner of Markham, Ont.
The Canadians set up camp in Changwon, South Korea, 85 kilometres from Daegu, nearly two weeks ago to adjust to the weather and time change, and head coach Alex Gardiner said the athletes are all healthy and ready to go.
Felicien had a nagging hamstring injury that forced her to pull out of a couple of meets earlier this summer, but Gardiner said she looked strong in practice in Changwon.
“She had a little bit of a hamstring strain, but I don't think there's any concern at all there now,” he said.
Felicien, who will turn 31 on Monday, hopes to make up for her own Olympic disappointment next year in London after falling in the final in 2004 in Athens and then missing Beijing with a foot injury.
“It's the one medal I really want,” Felicien said at last month's Toronto International Track and Field Games. “I have a lot of world championship medals, Pan American Game medals, 10 national titles, but to get an Olympic medal, I think I've shown that, not necessarily that I deserve it because we all work hard, but that I've always been capable of doing it but things have not gone my way.
“So yes, that is my fuel to give it this one last shot and go out and make it happen.”
Gardiner said the world championships are an important gauge for the Canadian team less than a year out from London.
“You can't fool yourself a year out. It's the final benchmark in terms of world-level competition before we go into London. We'll have to hold the mirror up and have a long look in it if we fall short,” Gardiner said. “And everybody else is doing the same thing we are, we just have to be more vigilant and more focused.
“The formula is simple, it's having people put in a consistent season, injury-free, healthy and then be sure that coming into the major Games, like Daegu and London, that they're in peak form.”
Canada won one medal two years ago in Berlin, a silver by hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who's taking the season off to have a baby. Her daughter is due mid-September.
Gardiner said he's expecting strong results in South Korea from Phylicia George of Pickering, who's seeded eighth in the 100-metre hurdles in her world championship debut, and javelin thrower Scott Russell of Windsor, Ont., who lowered his own Canadian record earlier this season, and is seeded ninth.
“We set a goal at two (medals), but if we get close on three, four, five or six, that would be fine,” Gardiner said. “If we have a whole collection of fours and a medal, that's OK too. But it's really about closing the gap to London and performance on the day is what we're always looking for.”
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