When Ziggy Szelagowicz turned on the TV on Tuesday morning and saw it was raining at London’s Olympic Stadium, he knew Mike Mason would be just fine.
Szelagowicz, a power/strength coach with Abbotsford’s Valley Royals track and field club, put his longtime high-jump pupil through his paces outdoors at Rotary Stadium all winter long – regardless of the weather.
“We were jumping outdoors with the snow coming down,” Szelagowicz said with a chuckle. “An hour or two before a workout, I’d shovel the runway. I wouldn’t allow him to do the physical work. I wanted to see him jumping.
“I said, ‘Mike, London is a tricky place. If there’s rain or bad weather, you’ll know how you’re supposed to feel.'”
Mason’s all-weather workouts very nearly paid off with an Olympic medal. He was one of six high jumpers to finish with a best height of 2.29 metres, but three of those athletes – Canada’s Derek Drouin, Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Great Britain’s Robert Grabarz – cleared it on their first attempt. They shared the bronze medal, while Mason, who needed three tries to clear 2.29m, finished in eighth place.
Mason had some good cracks at 2.33m, but he clipped the bar with his heels on two occasions.
“His first two attempts were so close, unbelievably close,” Szelagowicz said of Mason. “The third attempt, he went too aggressive. He was too close, and he had no chance going up. But the first two attempts were almost perfect. Only the heels needed correction … the body was over on two attempts.
“It was an outstanding performance, with this rain and this weather.”
The Mason-Szelagowicz partnership dates back a decade, when the 15-year-old youngster began riding the ferry across from Nanoose Bay to train with the Royals coach in Abbotsford.
The two parted ways when the coach left for a four-year stint at Trinity University in San Antonio in 2003. Mason, meanwhile, won the 2004 world junior title and represented Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but a nagging left ankle injury derailed his progress. He had surgery to remove a bone chip, but the pain lingered.
Mason moved to Abbotsford last year to train under Szelagowicz once again, and he returned to form, clearing a personal best 2.31m at a meet in Guadeloupe in May.
Szelagowicz wasn’t on the Canadian Olympic coaching staff, but he connected with Mason in London via Skype every day.
“I told him, ‘You have nothing to lose – you have to have big fun with the jumping,'” Szelagowicz said.
Mason did, and now he’s carved out a place among the world’s elite high jumpers. He’s been invited to participate in the Diamond League meets in Europe after the Olympics.
“I’m very happy with him, very happy,” Szelagowicz said. “That was an unbelievable experience for him, and he was so close. I’m sure he’s very happy.”