Pan Am Games: Nanoose Bay's Mike Mason wins silver in high jump


TORONTO — There was an Island silver lining for high-jumper Mike Mason, from Nanoose Bay, on Saturday night at the 2015 Pan American Games, but none for podium-favoured Cam Levins, of Black Creek, in the 5,000 metres.

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“I have never jumped that high in front of my family,” said Parksville Ballenas Secondary graduate Mason, after taking silver at 2.31 metres behind fellow-Canadian Derek Drouin’s winning and 2015 world third-best 2.37.

“I respect Derek so much. I’m glad we put on a show for the home crowd.”

This was just the start of a busy year leading to the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. It includes the World Championship later this month at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, where Mason made his first of two Olympic appearances, in 2008. In 2012, he finished in sixth place in London, while Drouin won bronze.

If that isn’t enough, Mason’s wife, Janessa, has just finished her first year at University of Victoria law school. “It’s a juggling act,” said Mike Mason, of a busy personal and sporting life.

The night featured two Island bronze medallists from the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games — Mason and Levins — but the latter faded to fifth in the 5,000 metres despite sitting second for most of the final three laps. The podium magic in the 10,000 metres from Hampden Park last year in Glasgow simply didn’t flow into the Pan Am Stadium at York University for Levins.

“I didn’t go very well,” said the two-time Olympian out of G.P. Vanier Secondary in Courtenay. “I have to go back to the drawing board. I didn’t feel that sharp.”

Games defending 5,000-metre champion, Juan Luis Barrios, of Mexico, surged to victory.

The Island continued to cement its reputation as a training hotbed for Canadians in Summer Olympic sports. The more than 50 Island athletes in these Pan Am Games have won 19 medals, including 13 golds, in events across several sports. There was particular Island gold-medal strength in men’s and women’s rowing, swimming and sevens rugby. The last chance for an Island medal is today, when Fred Winters, of Victoria, captains Canada in the men’s volleyball bronze-medal game.

That means the 21 medals that Island athletes won at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, will not be matched at Toronto 2015. But the 13 golds in Toronto by Island athletes have blown away the three-gold total of Island athletes from Guadalajara.

There were also numerous Islanders here in Games support roles, as Toronto 2015 knew where to look for expertise. Michael Murray, of Victoria, one of the most respected sports chiropractors in Canada, has worked several Olympics and was here as well.

“I’ve worked at lots of major Games in other countries and no one does it better than us [Canadians],” said Murray, who worked the volleyball, handball and squash venues at Toronto 2015.

“It is a huge logistical nightmare, but in the end [Canadians] make it look seamless,” said Murray, citing Toronto 2015, the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games and 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. “My first week here in Toronto, we had 80 shifts not covered, but we all pulled together to help out and make it work.”

Rick Morson, an investment adviser from Courtenay, came cross-country to volunteer at the Toronto Games field-hockey venue. “This was a great opportunity,” he said. “I knew Commonwealth Games volunteers from 1994 and wished I had done it then.”

The Games conclude tonight at Rogers Centre with the closing ceremonies headlining Kanye West. The 2019 Games are in Lima, Peru.

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