Track and field practice was about to start, but Peter Behncke was the lone athlete on the field. He was in the throwing cage, spinning around and then launching his hammer off into the distance.
He did this several times before the rest of the team showed up. The grade 12 Revelstoke Secondary School student is one of the top hammer throwers in his age group in Canada. He likes to get out early to get his throws in. When his teammates joins him, he turns into a coach.
“He’s been a real asset to the team,” said track coach Andy Pfeiffer. “Not only does that help other athletes see where they can go, but he actively coaches once a week through the season.”
Last year, Behncke had a banner track season. He finished third at the B.C. track and field championships in the spring, and then went to the nationals in the summer and finished second – throwing a personal best of nearly 57 metres.
His strength with the hammer (and the books) brought attention from a number of universities, and he recently received a athletic and academic scholarships from Simon Fraser University.
Behncke first picked up the hammer in grade nine, he said. At first it was a struggle, but he slowly started to get better. Last year he gave up ski racing to focus on the hammer exclusively.
“I wanted to get a university education and I didn’t see how it was going to work, missing so much school for ski racing,” he told me after practice. “I picked up a sport where I could attend school more often, and a sport which I also loved.”
Working with his coach Jeff Colvin, he set up a training program that he committed to. He does strength training every morning at the gym and practices his throws two of out of three days.
“There were some days I was in a bit of a valley but I had to trust the program was going to get me to where I needed to be.”
The result was his second place showing at the national youth championships in Prince Edward Island – the highlight of his season.
“You tell yourself every practice that hard work pays off, but you don’t actually know until you get to the event,” he said. “It was just a great feeling. I’m hoping for the same this year.”
Throwing the hammer requires a mix of agility and strength. I watched as Behncke swung the hammer over his head several times, then spun his whole body four times before launching the weight off into the distance. “Hammer is a really technical event and you can’t just get off with brute strength,” he said.
His goal this year is to once again stand on the podium at the national championships in Quebec in July, this time as a junior. He needs to throw almost 60 metres to make it; his best so far this year is 55.6 metres, but he’s confident he’ll be able to qualify.
Next year, in university, he’ll be throwing a 16-pound hammer, up from the 12 pounds he’s throwing in competitions this year.
“It’s pretty heavy but I think I’m definitely ready for hit,” he said. “I’m really excited for the next couple of months.”
Behncke and the rest of the RSS track team will be at the B.C. high school championships in Langley this Friday and Saturday.
Check out this GoPro video of Behncke doing the hammer throw, from April 2012.