LONDON — Derek Drouin was on the bus on the way to a practice earlier this week when he learned that teammate Andre De Grasse had withdrawn from the world championships with an injury.
The Canadian team, he knew, would need others to step up in the star sprinter's absence.
"I was looking forward to being that person," Drouin said.
Instead, the reigning Olympic and world champion was forced out of the competition himself, leaving a beleaguered Canadian squad missing another good bet for a medal.
The Achilles tendon injury that knocked Drouin out of the Canadian championships last month hadn't healed sufficiently by Saturday evening, and so he announced the news "with a heavy heart."
The 27-year-old from Corunna, Ont., whose pain tolerance is legendary — he won gold at the Rio Olympics with a double stress fracture in his spine — said the Achilles pain started at the Diamond League's Bislett Games in Oslo on June 15.
He figured, because it's not his right takeoff foot that's bothering him, the injury would heal quickly. But he quickly discovered "I really load my left leg even more than I do the right, so that probably explains how the injury happened and why it's been so slow to heal."
He's been limited to mostly biking and pool work in the weeks since the Canadian championships a month ago, plus the odd session on an anti-gravity treadmill.
"The only time I've really been running was when I put my spikes on trying to jump, which has literally just been since I got to training camp for the last two weeks," Drouin said from Guadalajara, Spain, where the Canadian team held its camp.
"I tried (Saturday) to do my full approach, just a run-through on my full approach, not even taking off, and I knew that I wasn't going to be able to do it with the same speed and the same intensity that I needed to jump any sort of respectable height, so that was kind of the clincher."
Two years ago, Drouin arrived at Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing with the fifth-best jump in the world, but in keeping with Canada's riveting performance at the world championships, he soared to gold in a thrilling three-athlete jump-off. The medal came on the last day of the meet, capping a record eight-medal performance by the confident Canadian team. Coupled with Shawn Barber's victory in the pole vault, it was Canada's second gold of the meet.
"That's tough to hear, my heart goes out to him," Barber said after Sunday morning's pole vault qualifying — he cleared 5.70 to clinch his spot in the final. "He had his heart in the competition so I hope for his speedy recovery."
Drouin, who'd also rebounded from ankle surgery to win bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, followed up his world victory with gold last summer at the Rio Games.
He's the Canadian record-holder at 2.40 metres, which is almost a foot-and-a-half higher than his six-foot-four frame. He's managed just 2.28 this season however.
Drouin and De Grasse accounted for four of Canada's six medals last summer in Rio, with De Grasse claiming Olympic silver in the 200, and bronze in the 100 and 4x100 relay. Both athletes arrived in London shouldering lofty expectations.
Drouin admitted he felt a bit more pressure to compete after the young sprint star announced Wednesday he'd have to withdraw due to a torn hamstring.
"When he pulled out, though, at the time I was feeling pretty optimistic," Drouin said. "Unfortunately just after that happened, I had a couple of really bad practices that sort of set me back to reality, and obviously wasn't able to recover from it."
Unlike De Grasse's injury, which occurred with no warning in training on Monday night, Drouin said at least he'd had a bit of time to contemplate his predicament.
"Obviously this is something I'd been hoping wasn't going to happen, but because it's been a couple of months, I've definitely had some time to digest that this was a possibility," Drouin said. "So it didn't feel like running into a brick wall by any means."
Drouin had a handful more meets scheduled for this season, but said he'd have to shelve those plans.
"The rest of my meets are all within a week or 10 days of worlds," he said. "If I wasn't ready for worlds, I'm not going to be ready for those and I'll just get my body right and ready to go for Commonwealth next year."
Drouin, who'd been a multi-event athlete at Indiana University, had originally planned to do the decathlon at the Commonwealth Games, but squashed that idea when Games organizers released the track schedule — the decathlon and high jump are on the same day.