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As the current high jump world champion, Derek Drouin (CAN) will be regarded as one of the favourites to land the gold medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. The upwards trajectory of his career has been constant, seeing him set a new Canadian indoor record at the age of 20 (a jump of 2.33m in 2011) and win three American NCAA championships before earning a bronze medal at London 2012. He shared that accolade with Mutaz Essa Barshim (QAT) and Robert Grabarz (GBR), who all tied in third place with 2.29m at the end of a final dominated by Russia’s Ivan Ukhov (2.38m).
In a closely contested battle at the 15th IAAF World Championships in Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium on 30 August 2015, Drouin beat China’s Xhang Guowei and 2013 champion Bohdan Bondarenko (UKR) to claim his first global crown. The trio enjoyed faultless runs until they reached 2.36m, which proved a hurdle too far for all of them. After an additional, fourth attempt at that mark failed to separate them, the bar was lowered to 2.34 – a height that only Drouin was able to jump. Zhang and Bondarenko both had to settle for a silver medal.
That achievement followed a remarkable success the previous year, on 25 April 2014 at the Drake Relays event in Des Moines (USA). There, the fast-improving Canadian became the 10th athlete in history to record an outdoor jump of 2.40m or higher – setting a national record in the process.
The Rio Games now loom large on the horizon for the Ontario native. “There are a handful of athletes at least who can win the competition, and all of us are going to get there thinking that we’re capable of taking gold,” he says. “I actually think that the list of potential winners could be much longer in reality, and that no-one really knows who’s going to win.”
The field is indeed crowded. The top performer in 2015 was Barshim, who registered the two best outdoor jumps of the year in May: 2.41m in Eugene (USA) and 2.38m in Shanghai (CHN). Zhang Guowei jumped 2.38m in Eugene while 2012 Olympic silver medallist Erik Kynard (USA) achieved a 2.37m – as did Bondarenko in Kawasaki (JPN), and Drouin himself in Toronto (CAN).
Drouin is no longer the athlete he was four years ago, when he embarked upon his first Olympic adventure and surprised even himself by snatching a spot on the podium. “I feel like I’ve changed a lot since the London Games,” explains the high jumper.
“I was really young, and it was my first year on the international stage. I’ve matured physically since then and I’ve become stronger, and because of that I’ve gained a lot of confidence.
“I’ve competed against all these guys. When I arrived in London, I was still a bit naive about what the competition really meant, but now I know who I’ll be up against, I know my level, and I know I can beat anyone. My discipline has really improved since London too.”
Several athletes have put in eye-catching performances in recent times – Barshim became the second-greatest jumper of all time with a 2.43m in 2014, while Bondarenko produced a 2.42m the same year – but Drouin is still the reigning world champion. “That status doesn’t put any added pressure on me,” he says.
In just a few months’ time, he will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Duncan McNaughton, who became the only Canadian Olympic high jump champion to date in Los Angeles 84 years ago.