“I’ll definitely be competing at this year’s Harry Jerome track meet,” was the quick assurance given by Michael Mason, Canada’s long-time international high jump competitor in a telephone interview recently.
This year’s Harry Jerome meet takes place at Swangard Stadium on June 20 and New Westminster-born Mason is looking forward to it.
“I was scheduled to travel to Rome next week for a meet but wanted to be ready for the Jerome by being fully recovered from a tweak in my leg so declined the European trip,” Mason said. “Swangard is one of my favorite venues and you might say my early performances at that Burnaby location got me on my way to being an international competitor.”
Mason brought his natural talent for high jumping to the attention of everyone at the 2002 B.C. High School track and field championships at Swangard. At the time Mason was a 16-year old Grade 10 athlete who represented Vancouver Island’s Ballenas Secondary and on that sunny Saturday afternoon he cleared the high jump bar of 2.12 metres – a phenomenal height for a boy of his age.
That mark broke the-then high school record of 2.11m set in 1974 by Vancouver Tech’s Greg Joy, who would go on to win the high jump silver medal -- and Canada’s only medal in track and field -- at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Two years after Mason set the new mark, the Grade 12 athlete again won his event at the school championships with a leap of 2.20m to establish a better record that still stands today.
Mason was introduced to high jumping as a 10 year old, after he joined the Oceanside Track Club located close to his parents’ home in Nanoose Bay. A fellow teammate demonstrated to him how to do the Brill Bend and after the young Mason gave it a try he decided that that was the track and field event for him.
“For the next couple of years during the spring and summer months I competed in local meets and took part in several events, but high jumping was always where I had the most success, so (I) just naturally gravitated to that event,” he said.
In his first appearance at the provincials, Mason was introduced to Abbotsford’s high jump coach Ziggy Szelagowicz. For the next two years Mason would make monthly trips to Abbotsford for sessions with Szelagowicz, and those get-togethers set the basis of his early mastery of the event.
Following graduation, Mason spent one year at the University of Kentucky then decided that the American system was not for him. He returned home, but first was selected to represent Canada at the world junior championships in Italy that year and it was there that Mason secured international recognition by winning a gold medal.
He remembers the competition as a tight affair with a number of jumpers clearing the same height of 2.21m. It took a jump off and then a count back to decide the winner.
“After our final jumps it didn’t actually dawn on me that I was the gold medalist until a number of my fellow competitors came over to shake my hand,” said Mason.
Following the world championships, Mason enrolled at UBC. He would go on to represent the Thunderbirds at the NAIA championships, winning the high jump for three consecutive years and establishing the meet record in 2006 at a height of 2.22m, a record that still holds.
Beside his world junior championship win, Mason’s other notable performances came in 2006 with a bronze medal (2.19m) at the under-23 world championships, a silver medal at the 2009 University world championships (2.23), bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games (2.25m), silver at the Toronto Pan Am Games (2.31) and another silver at the 2018 Toronto NACAC championships (2.28m).
Mike still enjoys competing and he has the support of his wife Janessa and parents Carol and Robert. For the last few years former Indiana University coach and now Canadian national coach Jeff Huntoon has been working with Mason.
“Jeff understands me and, most importantly as a coach, he is technically very good. (He) coaches Derek Drouin, the 2016 Olympic champion, when he attended Indiana and continues to be his coach. He keeps me stress free and is always devising ways in which I can improve.”
What keeps Mason, a proud member of the Nanaimo Track Club, so driven over the many years of demanding training, traveling and competing?
“I enjoy the event and the challenges of competition. (I) have become a student of the event and am learning what I can do with my body that will help me improve,” said Mason. “Most of all, it is the process of always trying to improve that makes taking part in the high jump worthwhile.”
Mason will put his jumping skills to the test at this year’s Harry Jerome (June 20) meet at the same venue where it seemed his lengthy road began 17 years ago.
Tickets for the Jerome Classic are available at www.harryjerome.com.