EUGENE, Ore. Sarah Mitton entered her first world championship final with big hopes for a medal.
But her best throw of 19.77 metres left her, heartbreakingly, just one step off the podium in fourth. It’s the best result ever for a Canadian woman in shot put, but the 26-year-old from Brooklyn, N.S., who has already made plenty of Canadian history this season, wanted more here.
American Chase Ealy won the gold with her first throw of 20.49 metres, China’s Gong Lijiao won silver and Jessica Schilder from the Netherlands took bronze.
A few months ago, just making into the final would have looked like a major success for Mitton, who didn’t advance that far at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics or the 2019 world championships in Doha.
But she has come so far in the last few months that she knew a medal was within her grasp here at Hayward Field — if she could stay confident and not let the pressure get to her.
Since May, Mitton has added over two metres to her personal best, set the national record and then smashed that mark with a 20.33-metre throw at the Canadian track and field championships. That made her the first ever Canadian woman to throw over 20 metres in shot put and, for a brief period, it was the longest in the world this season.
It’s still ranked third-best prior to Saturday’s final, one of only three throws over 20 metres this season.
“I feel like I’m along for the ride,” Mitton said the night before the final, on the season she’s having. “I just want to soak up every experience. I’ve never had a season like this where I’ve (hit personal bests) by so much, or feel like I’ve accomplished and learned so much, and I’m trying not to take it for granted and still learn as much as I can.”
She already sees herself differently. For one, the athlete who had never made a world final before joked that it shouldn’t have taken two throws on Friday to do it.
“I wanted to come out and do a one-and-done,” she said then. (That’s what Canadian teammate Camryn Rogers did in hammer throw a day earlier.)
Mitton said others are seeing her differently this year, too: “Even just being amongst the girls, I think they see me as a competitor more so than the girl who is just sneaking in and tagging along.”
There are dozens of decisions, not to mention years of work along with some great genetics and a little luck, that contribute to getting an athlete to the world stage. But some decisions matter more than others.
The one that Mitton and her coach, Richard Parkinson, credit for getting her to the point where she can throw over 20 metres — making her a medal threat in any global event — is choosing to maximize speed over mass, by giving up the glide technique she had used for years and learning how to spin.
At just five-foot-six, Mitton isn’t the towering figure that people are used to seeing enter the circle. In fact, she’s one of the shortest throwers on the world stage, less than ideal since shot put is a physics equation with an athlete’s height, mass and speed all contributing to how far they throw.
“I’m not getting any taller, and I can’t imagine putting 30 kilograms on, so learning to spin and using speed as opposed to mass was a little bit easier for me,” Mitton said.
She has spent the last five years improving her technique and increasing her strength and explosive power. That’s already put her name in the Canadian record book and, as she has said, there’s “still more to come.”
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