(AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
(AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Shot putter Sarah Mitton on her Olympic goals and inspiring the next generation

In 2022, Sarah Mitton made the world take notice as, after years of steady work, she emerged as one of the best shot putters in the world.

That season saw her capture three Diamond League medals, finish fourth at the World Athletics Championships, and get a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. She also became the first Canadian woman to surpass the 20-metre mark in shot put. 

The 2023 season saw even more greatness from Mitton as she snagged her first Diamond League win along with two silver medals. But her biggest breakthrough was winning Canada’s first ever world championship medal in women’s shot put with her silver medal performance in Budapest. 

Canada's Sarah Mitton from from Brooklyn, N.S. reacts to a throw throws on the way to winning a gold medal in the shot put at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022
Canada’s Sarah Mitton from Brooklyn, N.S. reacts to a throws on the way to winning a gold medal in the shot put at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Mitton will certainly be one to watch heading into the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. After years of being considered a dark horse or underdog, the 27-year-old from Brooklyn, Nova Scotia is embracing her new status with humility and grace. Alongside pole vaulter Alysha Newman, Mitton will captain Team Canada’s squad at the 2024 World Athletics Indoor Championships, taking place March 1-3 in Glasgow, Scotland.

We caught up with the proud East Coaster to chat about her incredible performance trajectory, her goals heading towards her second Olympic Games, and what it means to her to inspire a younger generation of Canadian throwers.

O.ca: What’s it like having that small town and provincial love supporting you?

SM: It’s pretty much this unconditional love. Most of the people who are in my hometown either know my parents, they babysat me, they coached me or taught me or checked me out at the grocery store, so it just feels like they’ve all been on this journey with me and watched me grow up.

When 2021 didn’t go the way that I wanted it to, still when I went home for a visit I was just met with nothing but absolute positivity and excitement. And it was almost overwhelming because I didn’t feel that way necessarily. The support they’ve given me over the last 26 years is incredible.

You were so close to the World Athletics Championships podium in 2022–it went into tiebreakers! How did that result impact your mindset and preparation heading into 2023?

SM: It was a super interesting moment for me because I had gone the year before [to the world championships] and I was [ranked] in the low 20s at the Olympics. So I’d gone from being someone who didn’t make the final to someone who auto-qualified on the second throw. That’s a big difference. 

Someone afterwards was like ‘Oh man, fourth place!’ and I realized that I guess I was supposed to be a little sad about that. But that part didn’t really click in until afterwards because I was just so proud of where I had come from.

Sarah Mitton in her windup with the shot tucked into her chin
Canadian shot put thrower Sarah Mitton throws during the group A qualification round during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Friday, July 30, 2021. Photo by Mark Blinch/COC

So then 2023 happens and you get your world championship medal and you get a Pan Am gold. How does that reshuffle again your perspective on goals looking towards 2024?

SM: At the 2023 World Championships, I was looking for that gold medal. But having never won a world championship medal before, I was happy to come away with the silver. I have a Commonwealth gold medal, a Pan Am gold medal, so I want the World Championship and Olympic golds to complete the set!

But I do think coming second this year was kind of a blessing. I’m not defending anything. I proved that I’m no longer an underdog, but I still have lots of goals to chase.

What does it mean to be a history-making athlete for Canada?

SM: The 2023 World Athletics Championships were such a historic championship for Canada. Watching Camryn Rogers and Ethan Katzberg come out and destroy the fields, I was like okay–let’s go throwers! I wanted to be a part of the throwing history that was happening.

READ: 5 fun facts about world champion hammer thrower Ethan Katzberg

And the only way to do that was go out there and put out the best performance of my life.

I was so inspired by Camryn and Ethan’s performances, and then I was down there on the field in the mix of the rankings, and the next thing I know, Marco Arop is running by to win the gold medal in the men’s 800m.

I looked over at my coach, and he goes: your turn. So many of my own teammates inspire me.

Sarah Mitton of Canada wins the gold medal in the Women’s Shot Put finals during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Thursday, November 02, 2023. Photo by Thomas Skrlj/COC

What advice would you give to someone watching shot put for the first time?

SM: That’s an interesting question. I would say that if they’re watching qualification rounds, there’s a line called the auto-qualification line. If you throw over it, you’re automatically advanced to the final. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first throw or your third. Sometimes people get a little lost when all of a sudden half the field is no longer throwing.

My second advice would be to watch for the big throws and the celebrations. The amount of energy and effort that goes into creating a big throw is huge, but sometimes watching the post-throw celebration is even more fun. We’re all a little quirky in the throws, so sometimes they’re kind of dorky and fun and whatnot, but there’s so much energy and excitement. We really do put on a show.

How quickly do you know whether you’ve had a good throw?

SM: Immediately. I know if it’s a good throw and I know if it’s a bad throw. You know if it’s a good throw when you can feel the ball pushing and pushing on your fingertips and then it just comes out with a flick and it’s gone. It’s such a smooth feeling. But if you muscle it too much, it feels like it’s all arm. 

Sarah Mitton of Canada competes in the Women’s Shot Put finals during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Thursday, November 02, 2023. Photo by Thomas Skrlj/COC

For you now, what do you consider a good throw?

SM: I would say anything over 19.80 [metres] for me right now, I would think is a great throw. If I throw above 19.50, I’m content, I know I can build off of it, especially if it’s in the early rounds. But as we look towards Paris, I’m looking to be more in the 20.50s range, potentially higher depending on how well my training is coming together. Just trying to create another historic moment in Paris!

On days when training is tough and it’s a grind, what motivates you to keep pushing through?

SM: Hmm. I would say I’m divided between motivation and discipline. I’m definitely not motivated every day…I’m not motivated to do most of my workouts every day–they’re really hard! But for me, the motivation comes from little things that people have told me over the years about the impact that, as silly as it sounds, this ball that I throw has had on them.

One of the things that I love hearing is that a young girl wants to try shot put because of me. This has been a male dominated sport for so long and hearing that motivates me.

It’s super inspiring to see more and more young girls in any sport, but in my own sport, which is such a strength and power sport, hearing young girls say that they want to be like me, or like Camryn, just really makes me feel like I’m seeing the fruits of my labour.