EAGLEHAWK teenager Olivia Graham is pretty handy with a hammer - and she’s hoping to hit the mark with a few more records before the summer athletics season is over.
Teenage throwing talent goes from strength to strength
Just three months after she first picked up the heavyweight throwing implement at training, the 13-year-old has nailed some impressive milestones.
Olivia has hurled the hammer further than any other local girl her age - setting a Bendigo under-14 record of 27.47m on November 2 and extending it to 30.43m a week later.
In fact, almost every time she has stepped into the competition ring, she has walked away with a personal best result.
Her talent was rewarded when she was selected to represent Victoria at the Australian All Schools track and field championships in Townsville this month, after winning the silver medal in the hammer at the state titles.
She finished fourth at nationals last weekend and was pleased with her performance on debut against the best in the country.
But don’t expect Olivia to boast about her efforts - she is extremely shy and slightly embarrassed by all the attention her sudden success has attracted.
She blushes as she recalls the day she was introduced to the hammer event at training by long-time throws coach Frank Barr, who also guides her for shot put and discus.
“Frank said to me one night they had just brought in the hammer competition for under-14s and he wanted to test me out with one of those rubber ones.
Frank wanted to test me out with one of those rubber ones. I threw it and it went sideways! But he said, 'I will make a hammer thrower out of you'.
“I threw it and it went sideways!
“But he said, ‘I will make a hammer thrower out of you’ and I have been doing it ever since.”
Olivia has now graduated from the rubber trainer to the 3kg metal implement, which she describes as being like a shot put on a string to friends and acquaintances who are not familiar with the sport.
Together with dad Craig, she has found a clearing in the bush behind her home known as “the secret spot” where she can go whenever she wants to practise in private.
Craig has followed in his daughter’s footsteps and taken up the hammer and the pair both compete for Eaglehawk at Bendigo senior athletics meetings.
“But she still well and truly beats me,” her dad admits.
Olivia has been involved in little athletics for more than five years, taking it up because she enjoyed her primary school sports.
After also playing netball and swimming when she was younger, she began focusing on the throws about 18 months ago and joined the Barr training group after qualifying for interschool regional championships in discus.
“I just wanted to learn more about it,” the Eaglehawk Secondary College student says.
“Frank shows you how to hold it, different warm-ups and the correct technique.”
Her drills are not just limited to throwing traditional field event tools - Olivia can often be found tossing one of her dad’s spare golf clubs into the air (or the treetops) at her secret spot to help perfect her action.
She started with a standing hammer throw and has moved on to completing one 360-degree turn before she releases it with all her might.
Down the track, she aims to add in another turn or two to further increase her momentum.
Her main rivals on the national scene are already performing three full turns, so she has plenty of scope for improvement.
Mum Heather says she is extremely proud of her daughter, but admits she was a little concerned about her going to Townsville with the Victorian team.
The family was unable to make the trip north to watch her compete, though they would dearly have loved to be there.
“I was very worried, only because I know how shy she is,” Mrs Graham says.
“She’d never been on a plane before, so she was a bit nervous about it, too.”
But flying to far-off places to compete is something Olivia may have to get used to.
She has also qualified for Athletics Australia’s national junior championships, which will be held in Sydney in March.
The Graham family held a sausage sizzle at IGA in Kangaroo Flat in the lead-up to Queensland and hopes to do more fund-raising next year to help Olivia get to her second national carnival.
They also have two sporting sons to run around after - Mitchell, 11, who plays netball for California Gully Primary School, and Sam, 8, who swims and also does little aths, where his dad is one of the race starters.
Olivia and her parents are very grateful to her school and the local community for supporting her athletic endeavours and to Frank Barr for taking her under his wing.
Barr has a history of producing outstanding hammer throwers, with recent stars including state representative Roxanne Kellow and 2013 national junior silver medallist Christopher Browne.
As Olivia goes from strength to strength, she also looks to have a bright future in the sport.