Burnaby javelin athlete Curtis Moss off to Olympic Games
Curtis Moss has never been to London.
That’s about to change in a spectacular way.
He’ll arrive there this week after taking a circuitous route via many countries, coaches and schools, and spanning several years.
In the end, though, it was a hometown Burnaby connection that got him there in time to throw the javelin for Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
In his days at Burnaby Central secondary, Moss quarterbacked the Wildcats football team.
It was a sport everyone assumed he would always play since he was the son of former CFL player Leroy Moss. If not that, then baseball, the game he loved the most.
In Grade 10, though, he tried out for the track team, and that’s when he hooked up with Burnaby sports legend Don Steen, father of 1988 Olympic decathlete bronze medallist Dave Steen.
“It was very exciting for me to work with Don and then the more I got to work with him the more I felt I was lucky,” says Moss.
The elder Steen coached, guided and moulded Moss into becoming the 2005 provincial high school champion in the decathlon and the javelin, an event he set a record in, besting the previous mark by 4.3 metres.
“We worked through to the point where I got him organized to go to SFU after graduation,” says Steen.
“That didn’t work out too well for him because of the emphasis on middle distance running and lack of concern for field events.”
Moss left Simon Fraser to seek help elsewhere.
He’d heard about a coach at Southeastern Louisiana University who specialized in javelin, so he headed there.
But then the coach left for another university and Moss couldn’t follow. So he enrolled at UBC where he played a couple of seasons at defensive back for the Thunderbirds football team as well as continuing his javelin training.
“The throwing situation at UBC was not great for him,” says Steen.
Return to old coach pays dividends
Moss had some decent results on the national and international scene but not great ones. He’d been frustrated because the Athletics Canada throwing centres in Western Canada were in Kamloops and Lethbridge and weren’t a good fit for him.
So about 18 months ago, he picked up the phone and called Steen.
“Can we go back at it again Coach?” asked Moss.
“Sure,” replied Steen.
The legend and the prodigy were reunited.
Steen redesigned Moss’s training programs. His results began to really take off when Steen tweaked Moss’s technique after watching some video.
“I’m a biomechanical nut, and I was looking at a lot of pictures of the best throwers in the world and I noted a consistency with the position of the javelin with the throwing,” says Steen.
All of a sudden Moss’s throws were approaching what he would need to qualify for the Olympics.
Steen got Moss into some international competitions this year that were not available to him in the past. He was only able to travel, however, thanks to a fundraiser at the Marine Pub in which he was able to receive $4,100 of investment in his Olympic dream from other believers.
“It was really cool,” says Moss. “That’s what made the difference for me getting into better competition. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money but that’s a whole month of quality competition and training for me which set me up for the rest of the year.”
Moss won a grand prix meet in Puerto Rico and came second at an elite throws event in Halle, Germany.
“That was major. They had as many of the hotshots there as they could,” says Steen.
Says Moss of his Halle experience, “Nobody really knew who I was, but when I got there and watching the guys train and throw, I started looking around and said, ‘Hey I can do this.’ ”
Moss also went to a meet in Morocco and won the Harry Jerome Classic at Swangard Stadium. Then he set a personal best of 81.21 metres at a meet in Victoria.
That result, along with winning the Olympic Trials in Calgary a few weeks ago, punched his ticket to London.
“Getting back with Don, I really feel like it was the best for me athletically, but also mentally. It was just a way better fit than all of the different situations I was in,” says Moss. “[Qualifying for the Olympics has] been all consuming for a few years. Now it’s time to focus on my goals and set my sights a little higher.”
The challenge ahead
To prepare himself for what’s ahead, the 25-year-old Moss has talked to veteran hurdler Angela Whyte, who has represented Canada at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and 2008 in Beijing, about what to expect in London. He’s taken her advice to heart.
“I need to just focus on myself and at the end of the day it’s just another track meet. The atmosphere is going to provide all the adrenalin I need,” says Moss.
The only multi-sport event Moss has previously experienced is the 2009 Francophone Games in Beirut, so things like an athletes village and heavy security are foreign to him. His main Canadian rival, Scott Russell, who participated in the 2004 and 2008 Games and holds the Canadian record of 84.81 metres, told Moss to stay calm, the Olympics is just another track meet.
It will be difficult not being in awe of his surroundings, though. Russell told Moss he realized the level he had reached in his sport when he was eating breakfast alongside American basketball superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in the village cafeteria.
“That’s something I’m going to have to get over pretty quickly,” says Moss.
The tight security will be another adjustment. The funny thing about the village in London, says Moss, is although it’s just 250 metres from the stadium, the athletes have to walk 150 metres in the other direction to load onto a bus just to take them 400 metres into the stadium.
The javelin event doesn’t start until Aug. 8 when about 40 athletes will be trying to qualify for the 12 spots in the final which is Aug. 11, the second-last day of the Games.
He’ll arrive in London on Friday (July 27) to get registered. However, Athletics Canada has determined the track-and-field athletes will watch the opening ceremonies from Canada House before leaving for Germany to train until Aug. 5.
“I’m pretty disappointed about it,” says Moss about not being able to participate in the opening ceremonies. He says Athletics Canada’s rationale is that having the athletes stand for several hours would interfere with their training and recovery time.
Moss will work with Steen in Germany but access will be minimal when he returns for the competition. In Germany Moss will focus on training and not the TV, though he expects when he returns to London he’ll get swept up in the atmosphere.
“I have two days to get it out of my system,” says Moss, who is hoping to see the star-studded U.S. basketball team play and also watch American swimmer Michael Phelps and Canadian Brent Hayden in the pool.
Steen and Moss figure a throw of between 82 and 85 metres will be needed for him to place in the top six. “Don and I have never been ones to put limits on what I can do,” says Moss. “It’s well within my capability to throw between 83 and 85 metres. When I’ve been able to train properly, get enough rest and get in the right head space I’ve been able to throw really well.”
Cheering him on in London will be his parents, Leroy and Jeannie, his older brother Ryan and twin brother Prentice, his girlfriend Jacqueline Muscat of Edmonton, as well as Steen, Burnaby paralympian Courtney Knight and Moss’s godmother Eldeen Milobar of Burnaby.
During his journey he’s received a great deal of support from others, too. At the Olympic Trials in Calgary, 20 people showed up to cheer him on, including Calgary Stampeders defensive back Eric Fraser who played with Moss at Burnaby Central.
“The support has been ridiculous,” says Moss. “It’s been a lot of fun. It makes it a whole lot easier when you have people applauding you during your warmup throws.”
Most javelin throwers, says Moss, don’t peak until they’re about 30 years old, which should be just about right for Moss in 2016 when the Olympics are in Rio de Janeiro. That isn’t part of his mindset, though.
“I don’t think London should be viewed as just a warmup.”
Although Moss took a long road to London, his traveling days are far from over.
“From Curtis’s point of view it’s been a journey from high school to where he is right now. The journey is only just beginning,” says Steen. “It think the door is going to open up for him now.”