TORONTO –Derek Drouin may be one of the world’s greatest high jumpers, but he’s a multi-event athlete at heart. And so while he was soaring to world and Olympic high jump gold, the 26-year-old from Corunna, Ont., never strayed far from his other love.
He’s drawn more than a few quizzical looks for it.
“There’s a lot of times we go to these track meets and he’s doing long jump training, or hurdling, or running a 1,500 (metre) workout, and people are like ‘What in the hell is he doing?”’ said coach Jeff Huntoon. “I just kind of sit back and smile. And I imagine he’s doing the same thing.”
Drouin has won virtually ever high jump title there is, including Commonwealth and Pan American Games gold. So while this season his goal is to clinch a second high jump title at the world championships in London, he also plans to compete in a few decathlons. The ultimate goal: a spot on next year’s Commonwealth Games team.
“It’s to get back to what I was doing in college, which was really when I was most confident competing, I kind of felt my strongest, felt like I was in my best physical shape, and I just have a whole lot of fun doing that,” Drouin said. “It’s something I really haven’t done in a while, but I’m very excited to get back into that.
“I was always a pretty strong hurdler in college. I really love throwing javelin. I was always competitive in multis in college and I loved it.”
Huntoon actually recruited Drouin out of high school to the Indiana Hoosiers as a multi-event athlete, but Drouin progressed more quickly in the high jump than the decathlon’s other nine events.
“He became a pretty good hurdler too, he was ranked in the top 20 in the (NCAA) in his last year, running 13.89,” said Huntoon –Canada’s Damian Warner holds the world’s best decathlon hurdles time of 13.44. “There were a couple of other events that came along pretty well.”
When Drouin and Huntoon, who was hired away from Indiana by Athletics Canada in 2015, sat down to map out a four-year plan, switching their focus to the decathlon after the Rio Olympics was on their to-do list for this season.
“And so here we are,” Huntoon said.
Drouin is competing in a high jump meet in Slovakia on Wednesday, then is one of the headliners in the prestigious Millrose Games on Saturday in New York City. Then he’ll take a brief break before attending a multi-events camp in Australia, to prepare him for a decathlon in Santa Barbara in early April.
A decathlon combines 10 events: Day 1 features the 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400 metres; Day 2 has the 110-metre hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500. He’s sure to win at least one event: his Canadian high jump record is 2.40 metres, and the world’s best decathlon high jump mark is 2.27.
Switching to decathlon training won’t be a massive departure from their daily mixed bag of training. Drouin and Huntoon have always believed in mixing up practices. (Read: doing hurdles before a high jump competition.)
“It’s tough sometimes practising your event all the time, say if you’re a long jumper and all you’re doing is long jump,” Huntoon said. “It’s trying to keep it fresh and lively. What’s happened with him is . . . he throws right-handed but will throw shot put left-handed, and throw discus left-handed. There’s just such a cross-over and it’s been proven.”
Instead of the traditional plyometric training of jumping over boxes, Drouin hurdles.
“It’s been just an overall philosophy of even though he’s a high jumper specifically, to train for all those types of things, and allow him to come along as an overall athlete, is really kind of an overriding goal. Just be an athlete.”
Drouin, whose sister Jillian is one of Canada’s top heptathletes, also hopes to escape some of the injury issues that often plague single-event athletes. After the Rio Olympics, he revealed he’d competed with two stress fractures in his spine, an injury so painful he felt “80 years old” trying to roll out of bed in the morning.
“Overall my body (in college) was more symmetrical, rather than me running and turning right all the time,” he said.
As for the Commonwealth Games, which are April 4-15 of 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia, Drouin would be up against Warner and rising star Pierce LePage, depending on how large a team Canada sends.
“But for us right now, it gives us a goal instead of just training for it like we’ve done in the past couple of years, something to shoot for,” Huntoon said. “And if he gets there, he gets there, and if he doesn’t, it’s not end of the world, I think he’s got something else he can look forward to and be just fine.
“But he genuinely enjoys the day to day. I believe it as an overall philosophy. So it’s just a win-win.”