HIGH JUMP

JONATHON GATEHOUSE August 16 2004

HIGH JUMP

JONATHON GATEHOUSE August 16 2004

HIGH JUMP

JONATHON GATEHOUSE

ONE RECENT NIGHT, Mark Boswell had a dream. A rather hazy, unspecific one, but something he’s taking as a good omen nonetheless. Canada’s top highjumper saw himself and his track-and-field teammates in Athens, heading for the main stadium. Hurdler Perdita Felicien was there, as were sprinter Nicolas Macrozonaris, 800-m runner Diane Cummins and the rest. They were

walking and talking, encouraging one another, getting psyched up for the competition. Boswell awoke just before they reached the track. But it doesn’t matter, he says—he already knows how it ends for him: “I compete on Aug. 20th and 22nd. I qualify the first day, and pick my medal up on the second.” Trackside at the University of Toronto

Athletic Centre, Boswell’s watching a group of teenage jumpers in a mostly losing battle with the bar. “Overstriding,” Boswell says of one failed attempt. “She didn’t square her shoulders,” he says of the next. It was supposed to be a coaching clinic show-and-tell for one of his corporate sponsors, cereal-maker General Mills. The Canadian record-holder,

a 26-year-old whose personal best leap is 2.35 m, sharing his skills with the next generation. But the sponsors are more than an hour late, practice is almost over, and the kids are heading home. Sitting on the track his extra-long legs stretched out in front of him, Boswell is laughing and joking, not the least bit bothered that a big chunk of a precious pre-Olympic day is blown.

In Sydney, Boswell finished sixth in a wet, chilly final, but his good-natured showmanship-muscleman poses, cheering his competitors, grinning all the while—won fans’ hearts. He’s had other successes. On his right hand there’s some bling-bling commemorating his dual NCAA (indoor and outdoor) titles in 2000, though he’s proudest about making the academic honour roll at the University of Texas that same year. He’s won a Commonwealth gold and two world championship medals—silver in 1999 and an extraordinary bronze last year, jumping 2.32 m after shredding the ligaments in his take-off foot during qualifying.

This year has been difficult. Still gimpy, he has barely competed, choosing to save himself for Athens. His season’s best is 2.27 m, far short of the 2.36 or 2.37 he says it will take to reach the Olympic podium. After his coach, Dan Pfaff, left Texas to take up with controversial U.S. sprinters Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, Boswell (wisely it now seems) returned to Toronto. For months now, he’s been working without a coach, following a training regimen that focuses exclusively on jumping. “It’s like a cheetah,” explains Boswell. “He doesn’t get up and run wind-sprints all day long. He stretches and plays around a little, but when he needs to be there, he’s 100 per cent.”

The sponsors finally straggle in and Boswell turns on the charm. Within minutes he has 20 people who knew next to nothing about high-jumping talking like experts. He’s energetic and inspirational, talking about his hardscrabble early upbringing in Jamaica, and his mother’s determination to find a better life for her children in Canada. Above all, he’s confident about Athens. At the end of the session there are cheers and applause. “You da man!” shouts one of the cereal women. Boswell laughs. “Not yet,” he says. “August 22nd.” 171