By Martin Cleary
If you asked Connor Fraser a few years ago: “What’s your sport?,” his answer would have been hockey.
Whether playing centre or right wing, he was accomplished at Canada’s national winter sport and skated at the AAA level with the U14 Ottawa Jr. 67’s, the U18 Kanata Lasers and the U18 Kemptville 73’s teams as well as the U15 and U16 Ottawa Sting squads.
When it came time for his OHL draft year, there was mild interest. But this was the COVID-19 pandemic time, only a few games were being played in bubble situations, recruitment was down and he missed time because of a back injury.
Fraser wasn’t drafted and wasn’t invited to an OHL camp so he decided to play his final season (2021-22) of competitive hockey with the Ottawa Jr. Canadians junior B team for a more relaxed brand of the game.
While hockey was the key sport in a childhood that saw him play competitive soccer and basketball, there was another sport lurking in the background – track and field.
Introduced to athletics in elementary school like many of his peers, he grasped onto the idea of being a throws athlete with two short spurts at Immaculata High School and found success with minimum training.
For the past two summers, he has a new focus and has dedicated himself to training with Olympian Tim Nedow of the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club in discus and shot put.
His commitment to spinning carefully and exploding in a tight circle has made him one of the top men’s junior throwers in Canada and a medal contender at next week’s four-day national track and field championships, which begin Thursday in Langley, B.C.
At last weekend’s Athletics Ontario junior and open track and field championships in Toronto, he not only placed first in the discus and shot put, but also he set personal-best scores, which lifted him to the top of the national U20 outdoor ranking lists.
On his final discus throw in the sixth round, Fraser, 19, tossed the 1.75-kilogram disc 50.00 metres, which came after a foul in the fifth round. That distance put him No. 2 in Canada behind Matthew Uliana of British Columbia’s Kajaks at 52.30 metres.
Fraser’s best throw of the six-kilogram shot put was 16.58 metres, which allowed him to move to the top of the national ranking column. He is 0.48 metres ahead of Jeremy Vandenboorn of London-Western, who was second at provincials with a throw of 16.10 metres on his final throw.
“I’m super pumped. I’ve been thinking about it (Langley nationals) since March,” Fraser said in a phone interview this week.
A first-year Carleton University criminology student-athlete, Fraser finished his intercollegiate season placing third in shot put at the RSEQ championships. He didn’t make the standard for the U Sports championships.
“It didn’t surprise me too much (to win two provincial titles). I knew I had it in me. I knew going in, you must perform and I’m capable of doing it. It was more of a relief to get it done.
“I’m very happy. It (winning at provincials) is new to me. Discus was my event in high school and it’s incredible to see my progression in shot put.”
When Fraser started track and field in Grade 9 at Immaculata, teacher/coach Neil Purves brought him into his throws circle. Purves was passionate about discus, shot put and javelin, and Fraser bought into it and found early success.
Fraser qualified for the 2019 OFSAA track and field championships in the boys’ midget (now novice) class, after only a couple months of training. He placed fourth in discus and 10th in javelin.
The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 and 2021 high school track and field seasons.
When track and field returned in 2022, the Grade 12 student-athlete debated about picking up his throwing implements again. The Immaculata program had a new coach, who wasn’t familiar with the throwing events. Fraser decided to step up and coach the new throwers, while working on his technique and training in a condensed time frame.
At the 2022 OFSAA championships, he strengthened his hold on athletics being his sport for the future by winning the boys’ senior silver medal in discus at 47.71 metres, and placing fourth in shot put at 14.59 metres and missing the bronze medal by 48 centimetres. He also was 14th in javelin at 43.97 metres.
When Fraser attended an early 2022 high school meet at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility, he was approached by Nedow. After a conversation, Fraser felt, if he was going to pursue the throws at a higher level, Nedow would be the perfect coach.
Nedow competed at the Tokyo Olympics, was the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games silver medallist and the Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.
“I started with Tim and got better every day,” Fraser said. “He’s incredible. There’s nothing like having a coach like him.
“It’s nice to have him as a coach. He’s a great person and he’s always there. And he knows how to react when you’re having a bad competition.”
Fraser has concentrated on training this outdoor season and made the Athletics Ontario provincials and Athletics Canada nationals his two priority meets.
“This is my first year competing for a club and not school,” he explained. “I’m new to track and how it works. My goal for the end of the year is to win nationals. If I travelled too much, it could hurt my training and body. I haven’t missed a training session all season.
“I had hoped to go into nationals with a better distance (in discus),” Fraser added. “I’ll try for 53 metres or so at nationals.”
When he reflects on his final toss to win the Ontario junior discus title, he certainly has a perfect image to replay in his mind.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself in the sixth round,” Fraser explained. “Either do it now or not. It (discus) was great coming out of my hand. I looked forward to it hitting the grass. I felt like I was watching it for two minutes. But it was less than three seconds.”
After his discus landed at 50.00 metres, he walked out of the circle a proud man with a personal-best throw, a gold medal and a motivational moment to take to nationals.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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