Astra’s field of dreams

Firing acorns at the boys up the road developed a throwing arm that would take ASTRA VITOLS to the international stage in shot put and discus. She talks with Brianna Piazza

Hi Astra, how did you first get involved in athletics?

Girl power: Warrandyte's Astra Vitols, a former athletics champion, with her neice Hannah and daughter Alana

I started off with Little Aths at age nine. A good friend of mine from school was doing it and she told me to come along. I liked it straight away and very quickly started to become good at most of the events. The next year I went to the Victorian State Championships and won that. I also won the next three years. I was certainly an all-rounder, but I was particularly good at the throwing events.

You say you were good at throwing. Were the throwing events your favourite?
I don’t know about being my favourite. What I loved about the sport was I seemed to progress very quickly, so obviously there was something natural there. And I guess I can only really take that back to when I was young. As a kid I used to throw acorns at the boys up the road.I was a bit of a tomboy and I obviously developed a boy’s throw – I can still do it to this day! So I can only ever put it down to that. What I loved about it all was the training where you’d get lost in your space. It was an individual sport and you would push and challenge yourself. There was a lot of mind work involved and I really liked the part where you were lost in that moment during training.

Tell us about some of your sports achievements.
I had a good balance of all track sports until I was about 16. Then I gave it away due to circumstances at the time. When I was about 21, I thought it would be nice to have a little throw and I found out I could still do a bit after five years. The Commonwealth Games were coming up and I thought it would be good if I did some training and had a shot at it. So, after about two weeks of training I went into my first Australian Championship and came third. I thought I might still have some life left in me and I trained with Gus Puopolo, but just missed out. I approached the Australian Institute of Sport and found out I needed to throw 16 metres (shot put) to get a scholarship. I was badly injured after tearing my elbow capsule in training, but I persevered, went there and threw the 16 metres. I was offered a half scholarship before progressing to a full scholarship. I made the Commonwealth Games team in Edinburgh in 1986 and made the final eight. I also competed as part of the Australian Institute of Sport team in Europe. I made the World Cup athletics team in 1989 and competed in Barcelona. I totally destroyed my ankle in 1989 but still went to trials for the 1990 Commonwealth Games and qualified. I went to the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand, in January 1990 and came third in discus.

Are there any highlights that stand out for you?
I’ll never forget the 1990 Commonwealth Games when I beat a girl a by a couple of centimetres. We had actually trained together in Canberra and I know she had trained really hard. It came down to her last throw and I was so tense because I was looking at a bronze medal and here was someone who could possibly beat me. But she didn’t. I’ll never forget how gracious she was about it. She said to me, “Astra, if anyone had to beat me for that bronze I’m glad it was you.” That was a really nice thing for her to say and I’ll take that to my grave. It was the most memorable thing to have someone be gracious enough to say that to me when she was obviously in a tremendous moment of disappointment when representing her country.

Are there any track athletes you admired back then or still admire today?
I still keep an eye on track and field. I like Sally Pearson who just won the World Championships for hurdles. I also admire Cathy Freeman. She had so much pressure on her shoulders when she went to perform and yet was able to focus and get the job done.

Tell us a little bit about your life in Warrandyte today.
I’ve been in Warrandyte since 1991. My daughter and I love walking in Warrandyte together. We go down near the river where it’s just beautiful, especially in the mornings. That’s the magic of living here. I loved to move around a bit, but I fell in love with the neighbours, the nature and the community feel in Warrandyte. It really is a great place to live.

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Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.

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