August 30, 2015 - 1:30 PM
BEIJING, China - In the days leading up to the world track and field championships, Derek Drouin played the words over and over in his head, like a song on repeat: You can win this.
And when the competition got tense Sunday night, and seemingly the entire Bird's Nest stadium was pulling for Chinese hero Zhang Guowei, Drouin said them again.
The 25-year-old from Corunna, Ont., was true to his word, winning gold in high jump at the world championships with a quiet confidence that ran through virtually every member of this young and talented Canadian team.
"I definitely was telling myself that if there was ever an opportunity this was it. I really felt like I was the one to beat, I felt like this was my championship to lose based on how people had been jumping coming in versus the last couple of meets that I had," Drouin said.
"And when it finally happened, it was just a relief."
The gold medal was No. 8 for the Canadian team to cap a thrilling best-ever showing.
"We came here to kick ass," said Athletics Canada head coach Peter Eriksson. "We kicked ass."
Canada's previous best performance was five medals two years ago in Beijing. The Canadians had never won two gold — Canada's other one this week came from pole vaulter Shawn Barber. And the last time Canada won more medals in either a world championships or Olympics was at the 1932 Games, where the Canadians captured nine.
Drouin arrived in Beijing with the fifth-best jump in the world this year, and on the heels of a victory at the Pan American Games.
The edge-of-your-seat event was decided in a rare jumpoff. Drouin, Ukraine's Bohdan Bondarenko and China's Zhang Guowei all jumped clean up to 2.36 metres, at which all three of them missed.
The bar was lowered back to 2.34. Drouin was the only one to clear it, guaranteeing gold. Bondarenko and Zhang shared silver; there was no bronze medal awarded.
"In the jump-off, it was a terrible situation to be in, terribly stressful," Drouin said. "And obviously no-one's going for you. I maybe would have started a clap if I thought that people were going to jump on board. It's the advantage of home soil.
"I've always felt that the mental game has always been a strong aspect for me, and luckily in a jump-off that's basically all it comes down to, and I was able to use that to my advantage tonight."
Drouin, the bronze medallist at both the 2012 London Olympics and 2013 world championships, is known for his calm demeanour. All around him Sunday night was mayhem and a bit of madness.
Zhang played up to the racous crowd, posing like a crane in "Karate Kid" after every successful jump. Colourful Italian Gianmarco Tamberi competed with a half-shorn face — he had a moustache and beard on just one half of his face.
When the 4x400-metre relays started, the jumpers had to hastily take their jumps between the runners on track.
Through it all, Drouin remained his calm, stoic self.
"Tell you what, he was the best jumper out there tonight, no question about it, it would have been a travesty if he had lost," said his coach Jeff Huntoon.
The victory comes after a frustrating season for the Canadian, who jumped a national-record 2.40 metres in April 2014. It appeared the sky was the limit. But try as he might, Drouin couldn't match that lofty height, and couldn't figure out why.
"I'm not so sure he wasn't ready to jump that again, but it was just the emotion of it, and the continuous questions of it. And then you get in your own head a little bit.
"For him, it was (frustrating). And that's a shame, isn't it? The sixth best jump in the history of the world (2.40), and he got a little frustrated. And you could see the emotions as the season went on, yeah, it got a little tough."
So the plan going into this season was to avoid peaking too early. Having to wait and wonder though tested Drouin's patience.
"I went about a month and a half without even clearing 2.30. . . trying to peak at the end of the season, and I got to the point where I just wanted the season to be done and forget about world championships," Drouin said.
"But luckily I was patient and things finally worked out and things clicked and when they clicked they really clicked. I felt like I was in a good place the last month or so coming into here."
Canada now heads into the Olympic year with numerous medal threats. The team had three silvers here, from Damian Warner in the decathlon, Brianne Theisen-Eaton in the heptathlon, and Melissa Bishop in the 800 metres. Canada had three bronze from Andre De Grasse in the 100 metres, the men's 4x100 relay, and Ben Thorne in the men's 20-kilometre race walk.
Also, Eriksson said that normally about 31 per cent of the team advances out of the preliminary round. This week saw 61 per cent move on.
What was obvious throughout the meet was a sense of quiet confidence, from star sprinter De Grasse to Warner to Bishop, to Canada's race walk squad, that pervaded this team. Every medallist talked about a belief in: why not me?
And during the wait for Drouin in the media mixed zone Sunday night, there were hugs and handshakes and the cracking open of celebratory beers between Canada's staff.
"That was one of the messages in the team meeting: stop being nice polite Canadians, that we're here to kick some ass," Eriksson said. "And they really kicked ass, and I think everybody really got the message."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015