Kathryn Mitchell (born 10 July 1982) is an Australian javelin thrower. At 30, Kathryn made her Olympic debut at the London 2012 games finishing 9th. Proving she is only getting better with age, Kathryn backed this up in at the Rio 2016 Olympics by finishing 6th. This year she already has the qualifying standard needed to compete at another world championships. Her personal best is a whopping 66.10m. I hope you enjoy this interview as I have had many requests for throwers. Kathryn has given some great insights into some great moments (including the Olympics) and tough times (injuries and bad coaching) in her career so far.
What are the best and worst aspects of being a professional athlete?
The best part of being a professional athlete is being able to pursue my passion for a living. It’s not a lot for a living but it allows me to train and put everything I can into being a better athlete. It allows me to travel and see many beautiful places. The lifestyle of being fit and healthy is also great.
The most challenging aspects are definitely injuries. They can come at any time even when you are in great shape and really derail your training and competition.
I believe you didn’t take up javelin until you were 14 years of age after your sister had borrowed one from school to practice for her sports carnival with. Can you explain this story, please?!
Yes, we grew up on a small farm and one year my sister borrowed a javelin from the school to throw around the paddock to practice for the school sports and I had a go. I didn’t get to do a competition in javelin until I started high school when I was 13 years old. I broke the school record in the first competition.
Prior to that, did you play many sports growing up?
I played tennis and basketball early on but I always loved athletics. Before javelin, I did long jump and sprints. I made the state team for long jump when I was 12. As a teenager, I also umpired the boundary line for the local football league.
It wasn’t until 17 you took javelin seriously. What steps did you take to pursue this dream?
I met my first coach from Ballarat when I still lived at home in the country town of Casterton. We used to drive 3 hours to do training with him. After year 11 I decided I wanted to move to Ballarat and train every day. I told my Mum and she worked with my coach to organise it with changing schools, living etc. I boarded in Ballarat for year 12 and started training daily. It was a very difficult time for me because I was homesick.
Revisiting Casterton in 2015.
Do you remember a moment in the ensuing years where you thought you could make a career out of this?
I always dreamed of being the best in the world and earning a good living from the sport but it never happened. I changed coaches when I was 21 and hardly improved my distance for 6 years until I met my current coach. My first coach gave me a great start but my second coach was a total fraud who led me to believe in him when he knew nothing about javelin. It’s an extraordinary disservice to an athlete for a coach to lead them in the wrong direction. During that time I could have stopped many times and people even thought I should consider this. I stayed in Australia and worked to support myself while I trained. In the end, I was quite lost but then I met my current coach who turned my career around. I am afull-timee athlete now but its nothing like what I dreamed about all those years ago!
I guess in 2006 you came to national attention really by finishing 6th at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. How was this experience for you?
Making the Commonwealth Games team in 2006 was a highlight. How exciting to represent your country in front of your country; your friends and family. It was an amazing experience and I threw not badly but not great. The memory of that competition is sadly tarnished still to this day by my former coach who told me in our post season review that it was “one of the worst performances he’s ever seen and if it was not my first experience at international level he would kick me out of his squad”. I went into that meeting more motivated and inspired than I’d ever been, and left as a deflated flat tyre. I don’t know why I didn’t leave him then.
In the years to come you performed well but just missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics despite winning nationals. Do you think you weren’t quite ready? Was this a big setback?
2008 was finally the year I woke up. Not making the Olympic team was a disappointing time but nonetheless the catapult to change. I threw 7 “B” qualifiers and was national champion but wasn’t selected. At the time I wasn’t happy but having now been to 2 Olympics at a higher level I think it was the right decision. In a country like ours with opportunity and privilege 60m is the minimum you should throw to represent the national team. I had never thrown 60m before that and I don’t think I was ready for the craziness of an Olympic Games. I guess I could say it was a blessing. I finally stopped believing my coach’s crap and left.
However, in 2012 you made the team for the London Olympics finishing 9th at 30 years of age. You said you were proud to be there. Can you explain the feeling of making your Olympic debut?
2 years after meeting my current coach I threw 60m for the first time and threw almost every competition that year over 60m. 2012 was a breakthrough year for me. I broke down many barriers both physically and mentally. Even though I did not throw my best in the final in London it did not matter. The year had been so great and the whole Olympic experience was amazing.
Throwing during the 2012 London Olympics.
Fast forward to the 2016 Rio Olympics and you finished 6th. There seemed to be a lot of happy emotion from this result and some disappointment. I guess this showed how much you had improved mentally and physical since London. Can you explain exactly your feelings then and now reflecting on this result?
The year of 2016 was the best of my career by a long way. I threw consistently well through the domestic and international season. In Rio I was in the shape of my life but could not quite execute the throw I needed and knew was in there. The competition was so close and it could have fallen any way. That was where the disappointment lay; I couldn’t do what I needed to do in those moments I had. A little part of my spirit died that day and I don’t feel the same anymore. Still, It was an amazing competition and I am proud of what we did there, for the season and for the preparation for the year. I still think I can be better, I still think I can throw further so that’s what we are focussed on now.
Injuries are so common for Javelin throwers with the strain you put on your body. This was evident during the recent Nitro athletics where you threw great despite clear shoulder pain. Can you go through some of the injuries you have faced? How do you deal with these and rebound from them?
There are not too many parts that haven’t been injured in my body. My shoulder is wear and tear now, which we need to manage until the end of my career. My most influencing injury was in 2015 when I had patella tendonitis. It came on my right knee, which is the one I need to land on, on an angle sideways after the cross step. I made some great progressions in technique in 2014 when I threw 66 but the injury in 2015 undid much of that work and I regressed a lot. I basically competed only in the world championships and a few other competitions and could not throw much because of pain. The training I did do was compromised technique and it really ruined the whole year.
I am proud that I have had long career with only one minor surgery on my ankle and nothing major on elbow or shoulder which is common for throwers.
You completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Human Movement) and I believe you now work in this field? I know you have said there is not much money in Javelin, so how do you manage work with your sporting career?
I don’t really use my degree anymore. I worked in fitness for many years to support myself but now am full time in athletics. I have a few options for after my career but I’m not sure exactly what I want to do. I will probably do further study at some stage.
Finally, do you believe you have some improvement left in you and perhaps another Olympics?
I have not committed to Tokyo but I have not ruled it out. I think I can do better than what I have done so far, so I am concentrating on that for now. As long as my body can and my mind willing, there are no limits. I always had a dream to be Olympic Champion so I guess there is still unfinished business…
Lastly some quick fire questions-
- Best event? I have to say speer.
- Toughest event? Men’s 110 hurdles.
- Toughest competitor? Too many to choose. Jan Zelezny (men’s jav WR holder) won 3 Olympics and 3 World titles. He could respond to massive throws when he needed to. I’d have to mention our own Sally P (Pearson) in there also.
- Favourite memory from athletics? Watching Freeman win the 400m on the TV at the Sydney Olympics.
- Toughest training session? Lifting during general power phase. Lots of burning!!!
- Are we catching the drug cheats? No, they will always be a step ahead.
- Is the future of Javelin in Australia looking strong? And will Nitro be the answer to help promote the sport in general more? Yes, we always have good juniors coming up, as long as they are developed the right way and coached well. Nitro did a great job in promoting the sport and I think other competitions around Australia could take inspiration from this and reinvigorate the sport.
- Finally what do you do to relax? We’ve just been home long enough to do some landscaping so I’ve been in the garden a lot and learning new things. I’m a pretty quiet person and like to stay at home a lot to relax. Home is my sanctuary.