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How a London, Ont., gym is breeding a new generation of Olympians | CBC News



For Julia Tunks, 17, qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics is not only a lifelong dream — it’s also a chance to follow in the footsteps of her parents, who are both former Olympians. 

The London, Ont., teen is being trained by none other than her dad, Jason Tunks — a three-time former Olympics discus thrower, who was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2014, and now wants to pass the torch onto his daughter, who competes in the same sport.

“The fact that I get to train with my dad, it’s a special thing for a child and their parent to work together and so it’s really nice to just get out there and bond,” said Tunks, a Grade 12 student at Oakridge Secondary School.  

It’s also full-circle moment for Jason, who competed in 1996, 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens, before retiring from the the track and field sport in 2010. Tunks’s mom, Lieja Koeman, participated in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for shot put.

“To have your child do the exact same event as you is something extremely unique. Obviously, you want your kids to be more successful than you, so I have a lot of pride that I’m in charge of all her training and we’re a team,” said Jason.

Tunks is among a growing number of aspiring professional athletes who train at the Damian Warner Fitness Centre, named after the London athlete who is a 2020 Olympic decathlon champion and four-time world medallist.

WATCH | What goes into Olympics training?: 

This London teen could be the youngest to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics

The Damian Warner Fitness Centre is becoming a hotspot for aspiring professional athletes. Julia Tunks is one of them who is being trained by her dad Jason Tunks, a former Olympic discus thrower.

London ‘a hotspot’ for young athletes

The facility has become a breeding ground for young athletes, including players from the London Lighting and London Knights, said Jason Tunks, a group fitness manager at the gym, where he trains his daughter. 

“We’ve had a lot of good athletes coming through, about four or five that could be nationally ranked in track and field for sure. It’s a Mecca for athletes trying to train,” he said. 

Many high-level athletes began to train at the gym’s two locations in north and south London once it was named after Damian Warner in 2022, said general manager Brody McVittie.

“We’ve had current, former, and future Olympians, and a number of Canadian nationals champions that use the fitness centre as their new training ground. We’re really a hotspot in London for athletes,” McVittie said. 

“We’re kind of at the heart of a lot of school areas and we have a lot of those potential athletes that come in right after high school, and when they catch the glimpse of a current Olympian, it might just inspire them to carry on with their own athletic journey.”

Long list of training goals

Julia Tunks's training routine consists of heavy lifting and plenty of physical drills. But managing anxiety around competition is hardest part of the sport, she said.
Julia Tunks’s training routine consists of heavy lifting and plenty of physical drills. But managing anxiety around competition is hardest part of the sport, she said. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Tunks is ranked as the one of greatest under-20 discus throwers in the world, and had the top throw in the country last year. This year, she’s training for the World Athletics U20 Championships in Peru, before setting her eyes on Paris in July. 

Her long list of goals involves throwing up to 60 meters and breaking national records. Qualifying for the Olympics would be “a cherry on top” and the first time a player Tunks’s age would make to the world stage, her dad said.

Tunks’s training involves heavy lifting and discus drills, but the toughest part is the mental pressure and battling anxiety, she said. 

“If I have a practice that’s not as good, I might get in my head and that’s the biggest part of competing. If you see someone throwing a lot farther, you automatically have to click in and get ready to go, which can be hard for a lot of people,” she said. 

Her advice? “It’s you against you. You have to think constantly that it’s you against yourself and not you against anyone else, as much as it may seem like it. You train to beat your own record, not anybody else’s.”

London Morning5:50Olympians training the next generation of top-tier athletes

17-year-old Julia Tunks is set on competing at the Paris Olympics this summer and she’s got great trainers. Julia’s father Jason is a former Olympic discus thrower and he offers his knowledge and skills to the next generation of athletes. CBC’s Isha Bhargava stopped by the Damian Warner Fitness Centre in London to meet the Tunks.

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