Olympic bronze medal high jumper Derek Drouin one of 40 Olympians competing Tuesday at U of T’s Varsity Centre.
At the 2012 London Olympics Derek Drouin won Canada’s first medal in high jump in nearly four decades. Since then, he has raised the bar for two more history-making moments.
A week ago he broke the Canadian high jump record with a jump of 2.36 metres. That’s the equivalent of leaping over the tallest NBA players of all time, standing on their tippy toes. And, on Friday, he ended his American collegiate career with a fifth title to become the most decorated high jumper in NCAA history.
So, just how is life treating this 23-year-old?
“I certainly don’t have any complaints,” said Drouin, a native of Corunna, a small town near Sarnia.
Drouin is one of the 40 Olympians competing at the Toronto International Track and Field Games Tuesday evening at U of T’s Varsity Centre. The meet begins with a Pro-Am 4x100m relay and ends with the Randy Starkman Memorial 100m Hurdles, in memory of the Star’s longtime amateur sports writer.
All his success has made one thing Drouin likes a lot harder to achieve. He can’t slide under the radar and escape the pressure of the limelight the way he used to.
“Going in (to the Olympics) I felt I was being a bit underrated, but I was OK with it. It’s always fun to be the underdog and surprise people,” he said. “It certainly puts less pressure on you.”
“I still like to tell myself that I’m the underdog. It’s a mind game.”
The mind game is part of what has helped Drouin become such a consistent jumper.
“High jump is such a mental thing. It’s you against the bar. It’s something that a lot of people struggle with and people experience slumps and plateaus because of it,” he said.
Drouin has avoided the common athletic pitfall of psyching himself out but he has struggled with another: injuries.
Drouin had ankle surgery in 2011 to repair three torn ligaments in his jumping foot. That injury kept him out of competition for 12 months. He wasn’t back to his full jump approach until the end March 2012, just a few months before the London Summer Games.
“I was about four months behind what I normally would be,” he said of his conditioning heading into the Olympics. “It was pretty stressful to say the least.”
That also made coming away with an Olympic bronze medal – the first for Canada since Greg Joy won a silver at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 – all the sweeter.
While Drouin has enjoyed enormous success in high jump, his start in the event was far from auspicious. He first jumped in elementary school but then high jump was banned from the school board “for safety issues.”
He picked it up again in high school, along with all the other track events he could possibly do. In the beginning, he said, he was known “as a hurdler who also high jumped.”
He still loves hurdles – and his personal best in that event could put him in the mix for a medal at a Canadian national meet – but his strongest event is clearly high jump.
“As I grew into my body, high jump choose me,” said the lanky six-foot-five athlete.
His collegiate career may be done but his athletic one is just starting, he hopes. He plans to stay with his coach at Indiana University and focus on international meets, the 2015 Pan Am Games and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. And there’s history to make, again.
“I only broke the Canadian record by one centimetre. I left some room for improvement,” he said.