SPORTS

Mason has high hopes as Jerome meet and world championships approach

06/13/2013 07:14 EDT | Updated 08/13/2013 05:12 EDT
BURNABY, B.C. - Mike Mason is literally setting the bar high as he gears up for another Olympics.

The 27-year-old high jumper hopes the Harry Jerome International Track Classic on July 1 in Burnaby, B.C., will help him reach new heights as he begins another Olympic cycle in preparation for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Mason is looking to improve his eighth-place finish at the London Games. But first, he wants to be the best in Canada. Derek Drouin of Corunna, Ont., set a Canadian record earlier this month at the Prefontaine Classic when he jumped 2.36 metres.

Drouin, who earned bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, effectively won a slow race to set the new mark after former record-holder Mark Boswell of Brampton Ont., jumped 2.35 metres on three occasions, most recently in 2002.

But Mason is not letting Drouin's accomplishment get him down physically or mentally.

"It's encouragement," Mason, who grew up in Nanoose Bay, B.C., but now lives in Abbotsford, said following a news conference Thursday. "Obviously, high jump in Canada is very strong right now."

Mason is also hoping the Jerome and some other events in the meantime will help him forget about a disappointing sixth-place showing at the Toronto International meet Tuesday. The 2.15-metre posting was well below his personal best of 2.31.

"For some reason, I just couldn't get my approach right, and I was taking stutter steps trying to adjust every single jump," said Mason.

"And it worked for two heights, but then once the bar started getting up a bit higher, I didn't really know what to do."

With the Olympic cycle just beginning, this summer's world championships in Moscow are Mason's priority. He will use the Jerome Classic and other events this summer to help him prepare for worlds, but is not setting any lofty goals.

"It'll probably be very similar to last year's Olympics," he said. "The first goal will be to make the final, and then whatever happens in the final happens. I'm just going to leave it all out there."

Mason said the Jerome Classic serves as good preparation for him and other athletes because of a typically boisterous crowd and good facilities at Swangard Stadium.

"I think it's just a really good place to compete," said Mason. "The track is fast. Conditions are really nice. Generally, you don't have to worry about wind as much, because everything is kind of secure with the trees around."

Other competitors still have to be finalized, but shot putter Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., who is in line for a 2008 Olympic bronze medal after a Belarusian received a lifetime ban Thursday for a doping infraction, is expected to compete.

Jessica Zelinka, a heptathlete who has emerged as Canada's top hurdles hope in the past two years, will also take part. She will compete in hurdles, an event she is focusing on this year.

Drouin is not expected to take part.

For the past three decades, the Jerome Classic has attracted many Canadian and international athletes that have used it to achieve Olympic and world championship success.

Charmaine Crooks, a five-time Olympian who now sits on the Canadian Olympic Committee, said the meet serves an important role in a non-Olympic year like this one, because provides competition for athletes and a chance to promote the sport.

"Athletics gets great billing during the Olympics, and between the Games, I think, it's important to have these kinds of meets to just really remind Canadians that there's a lot of athletes working very hard out there 365 days a year," said Crooks, who competed in the meet several times.

"And, they don't have a lot of opportunities to compete in front of their hometown."

Meet founder and organizer Doug Clement, 80, said it's humbling to think that he is still involved in the sport after starting up the meet when he was 50 and wanted more athletes that he was coaching to get international competition. Although the meet has faced challenges in recent years when it comes to attracting international stars and corporate sponsorship, it has carried on through the work of Clement, his wife Diane and countless volunteers.

The walls at the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, where the news conference was held, showed many athletes who have competed in the Jerome.

"I think we've played an important part in developing Canadians to that (top international) level," said Clement.

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