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Canadian Dylan Armstrong is out to win a medal at the upcoming World Championships and the 2012 London Olympic Games. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Matt Dunham)
Canadian Dylan Armstrong is out to win a medal at the upcoming World Championships and the 2012 London Olympic Games. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Matt Dunham)

Beverley Smith

Heavyweight medal hope Add to ...

Finishing fourth at an Olympic Games is usually a woeful and cruel result for an athlete.

There is no podium spot for it. No reward. No bonus. No revelry allowed.

Unless you are Canadian shot putter Dylan Armstrong, a beefy 6-foot-4 guy who missed bronze by a centimetre three years ago at the Beijing Summer Games.

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Granted, Canadians were celebrating because they'd never seen a shot putter from home soil of Armstrong's ilk. For once, all eyes strayed from the track to the field to watch grunting athletes hoist their petards. And here was a 310-pound Kamloops, B.C., native, larger than life, sitting in second place until the fifth and final round.

While the Canadian hubbub was still resounding at home, Armstrong's coach, Anatoli Bondarchuk, got him right out of bed and set him back to work.

Armstrong didn't mind. He never stops moving. And he hasn't been the same since that near-miss in Beijing. "It changed his life," said his mother, Judy, president of the track club in Kamloops, where her son started his career.

The fourth-place finish cemented Armstrong's resolve. He's out to win a medal at the coming world championships in South Korea, and then the 2012 Olympics in London.

That Kamloops gave birth to a world-class athlete shouldn't be a surprise. The city of more than 90,000 people holds the trademark to the phrase: "Canada's tournament capital." Armstrong's mother was part of a town delegation that went to France and landed the 2010 world masters indoor championships, the first time the event had been held outside Europe. In early August, Kamloops will stage the Western Canada Summer Games.

Judy enrolled Dylan in the local track and field club when he was only 9 because he was so active. "Let's put it this way," she said, "he spent a lot of time at the park."

He wouldn't sit still for five minutes. He didn't seem like the type who wanted to "play ball and count dandelions," his mother said. Way too static for him. He tried every sport, and right from the beginning, he loved shot put, although he strayed away from it with later interests.

At the annual junior development championships, Armstrong would enter 10 events. At a cost of $5 an event, his mother happily wrote the cheque, hoping all the running and jumping would tire him out.

Armstrong said in his early days, he loved the high jump, but he stopped seeing improvement in it as he grew. When he gravitated toward the hammer throw, he became the top junior in the world in 1999. But then he began to plateau. Shot put it was. He didn't make the switch until he was 24.

In 2005, Armstrong's career changed after the club got an e-mail from Bondarchuk, a legendary Soviet coach who had produced countless champions for 20 years. Bondarchuk had been an Olympic hammer throw champ himself in 1972.

His daughter and her husband had moved to Calgary, and Bondarchuk wanted to move closer to her. And he'd noticed the Kamloops track club's website.

Judy Armstrong perused his résumé, in which he said track had been his life and still is, and forwarded it to the club's coach, Derek Evely (who is now preparing British athletes for the London Games).

"Do you know who this is?" Evely said excitedly to her. Bondarchuk was hired. At the club, they call him Dr. B.

"Double excellent," he would say, in his halting English, to an athlete who succeeded particularly well at a task.

With his blend of science, technique and a program of "special exercises" (forget much of that heavy weightlifting, specifically target the muscles needed for the sport), Bondarchuk has transformed Armstrong into an Olympic-medal threat.

"Four times excellent," Dr. B would say of the guy from Kamloops who never takes a day off.

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