SPORTS

Hammer thrower Jim Steacy turns attention to cheering on his sister in London

08/04/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - The Steacys would come in handy on moving day — Canada's first family of hammer throwers has made its name hoisting heavy objects.

Siblings Jim and Heather Steacy of Lethbridge, Alta., are both members of Canada's track and field team at the London Olympics, the punctuation mark on two throwing careers spent practically side by side.

"It's pretty cool, we get along really well because we train together, we live together, it will be nice to have him to lean on if I need to at any point," Heather said.

Jim's competition in London came to a crashing halt Friday when he failed to qualify for the finals, faulting on all three throws at Olympic Stadium.

The 28-year-old will now assume his other role as cheerleader for his sister, who's four years his junior and is making her Games debut. Heather competes in qualifying on Wednesday, and the final is Friday.

"It's good to support each other that way, it's your little sister, you've got to look out for her, make sure she's OK, and watch her do well," Jim said.

Jim was the first to take up the sport after longtime Lethbridge coach Larry Steinke approached his parents at a high school track meet.

"He said to my parents, 'Your son could be a national level hammer thrower.' My parents said 'What's hammer?,'" Heather said laughing.

Heather, the quieter of the two siblings and a music student at the University of Lethbridge, tagged along to the track with Jim and their brother Sean so many times that Steinke cajoled her into giving the sport a try too. She was 13.

"I was fairly reluctant to try it at first and then Larry finally convinced me to come out and try some track stuff," Heather said. "He had me doing hurdles and high jump and all kinds of other stuff to get some co-ordination going on, and then I tried the hammer and it was fun."

Sean, whose wife Ashley is a member of the national women's rugby team, represented Canada before a car accident in 2004.

Heather and Jim are part of the largest throwing team Canada has ever sent to a Summer Olympics, and includes Sultana Frizell of Perth, Ont., the Canadian record-holder in women's hammer throw at 75.04 metres.

Heather's best is 72.16.

Jim, who was 12th at the Beijing Olympics, said half the fun of the event is simply "throwing a heavy thing far."

While the hammer throw might look like it's all about power, Jim, who has also competed on Canadian teams in discus, explained the event is technically as challenging as something like pole vault.

"If your footwork is off even by a fraction of a second, it's going to take metres off your throw, or if the angle of release is off, it's going to take distance off," Jim said. "There's so many variables. . . there are so many things that take place in the matter of two-and-a-half, three seconds. It's very chaotic."

Jim explained throwers pull against close to 800 pounds of force on a throw — enough to send a thrower flying into the hammer cage on the rare occasion the wire breaks.

Earlier this year Jim hit javelin thrower Liz Gleadle with a hammer, a frightening moment in Gleadle's preparation for London.

"The wire broke on a throw when we were training indoors and it skipped up and hit her in the quad, and it turned her leg basically from her hip to her knee black and blue and she couldn't train for about a month and a half," Jim said.

"I felt sick about that. But she's a trooper and she obviously rebounded quite well, broke the national record a couple weeks ago, and made her first Olympic team."

Gleadle competes in the javelin qualifying round Tuesday.

The Steacys, who still live at home with dad Graham and mom Debbie, have envisioned competing at the Games together since Heather's breakthrough 2011 season.

"For her last year, it was, hey this is a possibility," Jim said. "It just all of a sudden kind of crept up where it was, this could be a reality. It's really cool to do it with her."

The Steacys aren't the only siblings competing in London. Justyn and Ian Warner are sprinters on the track team, Emilie and Hugues Fournel are members of the kayak team, and the swim team has Colin and Sinead Russell.

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