By GARY KINGSTON
In 2004, when Mike Mason won the world junior high jump championship, Bennifer was breaking up -- What’s that! They’ve hooked up again? -- 2016 Canadian Olympic hero Andre De Grasse was nine years old and Vancouver-Whistler had just been awarded the 2010 Olympics.
Seventeen long, bar-clearing years later, Mason’s spring-loaded legs are still providing enough lift-off that the Nanoose Bay, B.C., product is looking good to qualify for a fourth Summer Olympics.
Mason, who will turn 35 in September and is balding slightly, jumped a season-high 2.30 metres at the Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic on Saturday at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium.
“Pretty happy, yeah,” said the soft-spoken Mason. “I’ve had a good series of meets (this spring), but the first two were completely on my own. This felt really good and I was confident. It was nice to have some of those younger guys in there today jumping some heights, put a little bit of pressure on me. I think that helped.”
Mason missed his first attempt at the opening height of 2.10, but then easily cleared 2.15, 2.20 and 2.24 on his first attempts before needing three tries to clear 2.30. He made one attempt at matching his personal best of 2.33 before shutting things down.
“I was running out of steam,” said Mason, who tweaked his right ankle a bit while clearing 2.30. “Once you start running out of steam in high jump and you’re jumping by yourself, sometimes it’s better to shut it down. I took that first attempt because Why not? But I didn’t want to push it any further.”
Currently, 16 men have qualified for the Olympics by meeting or bettering the event standard of 2.33 metres over the last two years. Sixteen more spots are to be allocated based on the World Athletics Road to Tokyo rankings and Mason tops that list, making him all but certain for a fourth Games.
“I don’t like to think that, even though logically you want to feel safe. But I won’t feel safe until I’m actually named to the team. I know it may be silly when you look at the rankings list, but that’s just how I feel.”
Mason is the oldest man in the top 60 on the world’s best for 2021. But he won’t be the oldest high jumper to compete at an Olympics. Dragutin Topic of Serbia was 41 when he jumped at London in 2012.
Mason’s consistency and longevity have been remarkable, especially given that at just over six-foot-one, he’s a good three to four inches shorter than what is considered ideal for a high jumper. He attributes his longevity to a combination of things.
“I love to high jump, so it’s just a natural process to keep jumping. I really enjoy it,” said Mason. “I’ve been able to stay healthy and consistent. Consistency is so important in high jump. And there’s definitely some genetics in there. I don’t suffer as many injuries.”
He’s also improved his mental game, staying relaxed and controlled and keeping himself in the moment.
“If you had asked me seven or eight years ago if my mental game was good, I may have said ‘yeah, it’s pretty good,’ but now I now it probably wasn’t. It’s definitely better now.”
A two-time Pan Am Games silver medalist and Commonwealth Games bronze medalist, Mason didn’t qualify for the finals at the 2008 and 2016 Olympic Games, but was eighth at the 2012 Games in London and seventh at the 2019 world championships.
He doesn’t want to think past Tokyo right now, but how much longer will he compete at elite level?
“I try not to think (about retirement). I know I’m getting up there, but the key is that I’m jumping well. And if I’m jumping well, then I’m going to keep jumping. I want to be competitive.”
Mason may well be the only Canadian male high jumper going to Tokyo.
Django Lovett, 29, of Surrey has a season-best of 2.29 metres, But he’s right on the cutline in the rankings quota to make the Olympics.
Derek Drouin, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist from Corunna, Ont., is battling back from three Achilles tears and a herniated disc in his neck since 2017. He doesn’t have enough ranking points to qualify via the quota system so he’ll need to jump the 2.33-metre standard sometime in the next two weeks. His best in three meets this spring is 2.24.