Mike Mason aiming big in high jump title defence at Canadian Olympic trials

Mike Mason has often shied away from sizing up the high jump competition ahead of major championships, but two weeks ago he watched online as five men reached or surpassed 2.30 metres in Florence, Italy.

Russia’s Ilya Ivanyuk, the 2019 world bronze medallist, cleared 2.33 on his first attempt to win for the second time in as many Diamond League meets this season. Two others needed more jumps to match while another pair cleared 2.30, tying Mason’s season best.

Learning how other athletes are performing across the world this season has been paramount following a 2020 campaign during which many didn’t compete much or at all due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It has been important to keep an eye on it. I want to see big jumps because it pushes me in training,” Mason told CBC Sports recently from his home on Vancouver Island in Nanoose Bay, B.C. “It’s going to be competitive [this season]. It always is, especially at the Olympics.”

First, Mason will attempt to achieve the 2.33 Summer Games standard and win a fourth consecutive Canadian title on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET at the Olympic trials in Montreal.

This [season] feels like I’ve continued from where I left off in 2019. I want to … aim higher at the bigger meets.— Mike Mason on the Olympic trials and Summer Games

The five-time senior champion, who will compete in Tokyo at his fourth Olympics barring the unforeseen, is hoping for a competitive event at Claude-Robillard Sports Complex against Django Lovett and reigning Olympic gold medallist Derek Drouin, who hasn’t jumped at nationals since his 2016 win.

“I think I’m in a really good spot now,” said Mason, who is ranked sixth in the world and would meet the alternate criteria for Olympic qualifying. “I had years when I jumped well in my first meet, dropped a little bit, figured things out and came back with a strong finish. This [season] feels like I’ve continued from where I left off in 2019.

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“I want to keep the momentum going and hopefully aim higher at the bigger meets. That’s a goal.”

Past success in Montreal

When the 2020 Olympics was postponed 15 months ago, Mason was coming off the most successful season of his career with seven top-two finishes in 11 events, including his fifth Canadian title. He jumped a season-best 2.31 metres in his 2019 opener and went on to earn his second Pan Am silver medal, won a Diamond League in Paris and jumped 2.30 to place seventh at his fourth world championships.

WATCH | Mason clears 2.30 metres in 2019 world final:

Mike Mason of Nanoose Bay, B.C. finished in 7th place after clearing 2.30 metres in the high jump at the world track and field championships in Doha. 1:17

Mason said he turned around his season battling Lovett for the 2019 national title, also in Montreal. Lovett cleared 2.24 on his third and final try to push Mason, who went 2.26 on the first attempt before his opponent missed.

“It was the first in a series of meets when things started to click for me,” Mason recalled. “I had a couple of disappointing meets before then that made me look at video, analyze and discuss with my coaches what I thought I was doing wrong.

“Part of it was how I was approaching the jumps mentally, how I was preparing and visualizing. Eventually, I felt I was getting a handle on how to handle the pressure of a meet.”

Nearly two years passed before Mason returned to outdoor competition last month and jumped 2.27 and 2.28 at a pair of events in Victoria. Those results were a “relief” to the 34-year-old, who hadn’t competed since an indoor meet in Seattle on Feb. 14, 2020.

“There were so many months [early in the pandemic] of the same workouts and constantly pushing myself but not getting to see where I was at [in competition],” said Mason, who jumped a personal-best 2.33 in July 2015 at the Edmonton TrackTown Classic. “My practice marks were good, but because I’ve always jumped lower in practice, I always wondered [where I stood].”

Twelve days ago, Mason jumped 2.30 to beat Aiden Grout for his eighth victory at the Harry Jerome Track Classic in Burnaby, B.C.

“That was really, really fun for me,” Mason said of competing in front of a smattering of fans lined along a fence behind the high jump pit at Swangard Stadium. “Everyone was into [the competition] from the warmup jumps. It was exciting and it felt like the crowd was as good as any other year [when fans were allowed in the stands].”

Mason reported feeling mentally strong throughout the event and patient when reaching the higher heights, but he did jam his right ankle while clearing 2.30.

“I’ve had so many issues with my ankle over the years it was nothing new or concerning,” he said. “I’ve been training on it all week and it’s good. I’m focused on competing well and staying consistent with what’s working for me.”

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