Harry Jerome Classic to showcase youngsters
VANCOUVER – The last time Mike Mason was inside the Richmond Olympic Oval, it was still configured for long track speed skating.
That was before the 2010 Winter Games and before it was converted to a busy multi-use facility that now features a couple of hockey rinks, basketball and volleyball courts, badminton areas and a running track and field event area.
On Saturday, Mason, a two-time Olympian who just missed a high jump bronze medal in London last summer, will be trying to soar not score and attack the bar not the rim.
Mason, 26, will be one of a handful of featured senior athletes at the Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Indoor Track Classic, a third-year event established primarily for age-group athletes 12-and-up and as a showcase for some of the province’s top junior performers.
“I think it will just be so much fun,” says Mason, who grew up in Nanoose Bay and who now lives in Abbotsford. “There’ll be a lot of kids out there, a lot of people there.
“It’ll probably be a bit chaotic, but that’s how indoors is. That’s what I love about indoors. It’s so condensed. It’ll be interesting to see.”
The meet has almost tripled in size from last year, with more than 320 athletes registered for 60-plus events, most of them on the facility’s 200-metre, five-lane plastic/rubber track and an adjacent five-lane sprint straightaway. In addition to high schoolers, UBC, SFU and Trinity Western have entered several athletes in open events.
“I like to call it the Road to Rio, where we’re going to see kids who are hopefully going to be on the Olympic team in the next three to four years,” said Clement.
Unlike the annual and well-established Harry Jerome outdoor meet at Swangard Stadium, which Clement said appeals more to “a general sporting audience,” the indoor is more about families. There is seating for about 1,000 and he expects plenty of parents and grandparents to be in attendance.
“It’s a great atmosphere inside the oval and this year it could be a zoo, people all over the place.”
Mason tied for the 12th best jump in the world last season at 2.31 metres. He cleared 2.29 at London, the same height as Canadian bronze medalist Derek Drouin of Corunna, Ont., but had to settle for an eighth-place finish.
Ivan Ukhtov of Russian won gold with a jump of 2.38, with Erik Kynard of the U.S. taking silver at 2.33. Six other jumpers cleared 2.29 and missed at 2.33, with Drouin and two others earning bronze medals for clearing 2.29 on their first attempt. It took Mason three tries to make that height.
Mason jumped in four European meets right after the Olympics, then took two well-deserved months off.
“I definitely needed it, I think mentally more than physically, although physically I needed it too. I competed four times at some pretty high profile meets and was getting pretty burned out by the last one. So it was definitely time to get some rest.”
Right now, he’s in the middle of some heavy training ahead of his outdoor season and the IAAF world championships in Moscow in August, so he’s not sure what to expect on Saturday. The training has mostly been gym work, focusing on getting stronger, and he’s done little in the way of actual jumping or technical work.
“It’s always hard to say that first meet. I am feeling good, but I really haven’t done too much jumping, so what does that mean? But I know I’m healthy and I’m stronger than I was at this point last year.”
There are nine other men entered in the open high jump, mostly local university students, but none have cleared better than 1.95 in their careers.
Mason’s career indoor best is 2.30 set five years ago in Seattle, but he rarely competes indoors, in part because the season is so short and because there are just so few opportunities. Athletics Canada does not even hold a national championship indoor meet anymore.
Mason, who needed to overcome a serious ankle injury to compete in London, one that cost him much of 2011, says he’s committed to making another push for an Olympic medal at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“I’m only 26 now. In terms of peak years of high jumpers, I think the next few years will definitely be good years if I’m healthy and keep training well.
“It’s always tough to finish a four-year Olympic cycle and automatically be thinking about the next one. But it’s definitely a long-term goal.”
FINISH LINE: The Jerome meet starts at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday . . . The men’s high jump is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. . . . for more info, go to www.harryjerome.com.