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Hammer Time: Island throwers named to Commonwealth Games team

Move over MC. You can’t touch this. It’s hammer time, not in baggy dancing pants, but in shorts. Two strapping athletes are bringing the hammer down on the Island — literally.
The closing ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia. The 2022 Games are in Birminigham, England in late July. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

Move over MC. You can’t touch this. It’s hammer time, not in baggy dancing pants, but in shorts. Two strapping athletes are bringing the hammer down on the Island — literally.

Hammer throwers Adam Keenan of Victoria, five-foot-10 and 225 pounds, and Ethan Katzberg of Nanaimo, six-foot-six and 235 pounds, were selected to the Canadian track and field team announced Wednesday for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

Also named to the 43-member team are Para athletes David Johnson, Zachary Gingras, Tristan Smyth and Thomas Normandeau, all of the Victoria City Elite Club, as the Commonwealth Games are the only major multi-sport Games that fully incorporate Para athletes on an equal basis in the regular sports roster.

Birmingham 2022 will feature 19 sports and eight Para sports as with more than 4,500 athletes to compete.

Headlining the Canadian team is Olympic-medallist sprinter Andre De Grasse from Markham, Ont., as he and teammates Aaron Brown, Jerome Blake and Brendon Rodney will look to emulate their 4x100 relay silver-medal success from last summer in the Tokyo Olympics.

Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Keenan is four-time Canadian hammer champion and no stranger to the national podium. The Lambrick Park Secondary graduate has been nibbling around the international podium, placing fourth in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, while building for his hoped Olympic breakthrough at Paris in 2024. That would be the culmination of a relentless climb from 2011 B.C. high school track and field male athlete of the year to Big Sky Conference champion in NCAA Div. 1 while at Northern Arizona, where he majored in clinical psychology.

The second-ranked Canadian hammer-thrower behind Keenan is 20-year-old Katzberg from Nanaimo. The John Barsby Secondary graduate, coached by Olympic-medallist shot-putter Dylan Armstrong, is ranked top North American hammer thrower and third in the world in his age group.

The three Vic City Elite Para athletes overcame more than just the regular sporting obstacles to reach Birmingham. Johnson is from Saanich and competed in the 2019 Para Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru. He was an all-rounder in baseball, soccer and hockey when he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition at eight-years-old. He was forced to play the body in hockey because it became difficult to see the puck. Johnson has been reduced to three percent vision and runs with a guide.

The 2016 Rio Paralympics bronze-medallist Smyth became paraplegic after a long-boarding accident when wheeling down a road. Tokyo Paralympics bronze-medallist Gingras is a University of Victoria computer science major with cerebral palsy. Normandeau, born without a left hand, is a 2019 Lima Para Pan Am Games finalist and Tokyo Paralympian.

Canada followed up its six track and field medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics with nine in able-bodied and two in Para events at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and six medals last summer in the Tokyo Olympics.

Canadian head coach is Olympic gold medallist Glenroy Gilbert. Among the assistant coaches are Geoff Harris of Victoria, a former runner and semifinalist in the 800 metres at the 2012 London Olympics, and Sheldan Gmitroski of Victoria with Brad Curry of Victoria the team physiotherapist.

This year provides the added challenge of the tight double with the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, from July 28 to Aug. 8 (track and field at Alexander Stadium from July 3 to Aug. 7), following closely after the world track and field championships July 15-24 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.