Derek Drouin triumphed in a spell binding three-man jump off to strike high jump gold at the Beijing World Championships. The Canadian tells us how he reigned supreme in athletics’ version of the penalty shootout.

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It was the final day of a thrilling world championships in the Bird’s Nest Stadium. Nothing could separate Derek Drouin, China’s Guowei Zhang (King of Celebrations) and Ukrainian Bogdan Bondarenko, the defending champion, after all three cleared (or in Bondarenko’s case successfully passed) every attempt up to and including 2.33m at the first attempt. At the next height, 2.36m, each of the trio’s efforts were not enough. Result: JUMP OFF.

It was only the second jump off of Drouin's career. The first had come in a high school competition ten years ago, and back then he had been up against a teammate, which he says “hardly counts”.

“It was definitely a completely different scenario, but it’s probably not something you can prepare for,” he admits.

Emotional rollercoaster

The competition had gone perfectly up to and including 2.33m, and as Drouin was first to clear that height he was the man in control. But following two failures at 2.36m, he feared he had conceded his grip on the title, and fully expected his rivals to soar clear. Failing for the third time, he thought he’d “screwed up”, but he was offered a reprieve when both Zhang and Bondarenko also fouled out.

“At that point, being in a jump-off was a bonus,” he explains. “Luckily we had not taken too many jumps to that point in the competition, so I did not feel too tired and my physical energy was good.

“Also, in terms of getting pumped for a big competition, it is pretty easy when you are on such a big stage.” 

Derek Drouin in the Beijing jump-off ()

 After failing at 2.36m Drouin thought he'd “screwed up”

Just another jump

Given a second chance and guaranteed a bronze medal, the 25-year-old says the pressure was lifted. His coach Jeff Huntoon wasn’t fazed by the situation either, and Drouin believes that also helped.

“We didn’t talk about strategy, we just talked about how I missed that bar [at 2.36m] and what I needed to do to fix it,” he recalls.

“We basically just treated it as just another jump in the competition. Unintentionally we both did a good job of not making the jump off a super high-stress situation.”

Business as usual

It's common to hear athletes talking about taking every competition on its own merit and not thinking too far ahead. It's a cliché because it works, and it was a mindset that worked for Drouin in Beijing.

“My goal is always to clear the bar at the first attempt and put pressure on my competitors,” he says.

“If I clear every jump at my first attempt, the best people are going to do is tie with me. This general mindset I have for any competition set me up well for the jump off.”

Drouin says he is genuinely undecided whether jumping first – as he did during the jump-off – was an advantage or disadvantage.

High jump medallists Bondarenko, Drouin and Zhang in Beijing ()

 Drouin cleared 2.34m in his first attempt. Bondarenko and Zhang both failed once and shared silver.

Smells like team spirit

Being the only one to clear 2.34m with one attempt, Drouin clinched gold to go with his Commonwealth and Pan American Games titles. Yet the achievement was more than an individual effort. He was part of a record-breaking and inspirational Canadian team that snared an unprecedented eight medals in Beijing.

“Being part of the Canadian team was just like being on an NCAA team,” he explains.

“Not in the sense that we are scoring points, but that we are gathering every night at the track to watch and support each other and feed off each other’s energy.

“Watching Shawn [Barber win pole vault gold] I just remember thinking I wanted to jump that night. I was so motivated and so excited and so proud of him, I was ready to jump at that point.”

Needless to say, the wait was worth it.