Germaine Mason: 'It's been a difficult year for my family'

Since the Birchfield Harrier leapt to a surprise Olympic silver medal he has endured knee surgery and seen his brother jailed for a horrific gang murder. He talks to Simon Turnbull
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The Independent Online

Germaine Mason has endured some lows since the night he soared to Olympic silver in Beijing's "Bird's Nest" last August. In December the least-known of Britain's quartet of track and field medal winners in the Chinese capital underwent knee surgery and missed two months of his winter training. Much worse was to come in April. His 16-year-old brother, Andre, was jailed for life for his part in the horrific gang murder of a 22-year-old student at Southall in west London.

"Yeah, it's been a difficult year for my family and I," Mason reflected yesterday. "We're coping with it, taking everything step by step." In the circumstances, it is little wonder that the surprise Beijing medallist has not been hitting the heights in the first half of the outdoor season. Five weeks out from the World Championships in Berlin, he stands joint 85th in the world rankings – sixth in the British rankings – courtesy of what for him was a modest 2.21m clearance at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon last month.

Still, it was at the trials in Birmingham a year ago that Mason's Olympic season took off – a victory at 2.27m starting a rise in form that took him to silver in Beijing, with a personal best-equalling clearance of 2.34m. The former Jamaican international, who switched allegiance in 2006 (courtesy of his London-born father David), is hoping the Aviva World Trials and UK Championships, which open tonight at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham and run through to Sunday, will prove to be a similar launch pad for him in 2009.

"I've only done two competitions this year," Mason said. "I did the Prefontaine Classic last month and the Lausanne meet on Tuesday. I only did 2.20m there but it rained continually and that kind of messed things up. Things have gone well since I got back in training after the knee surgery. I'm in much better shape than 2.20m. Last year my form was all over the place until I got to the trials. I'm hoping for something similar this time – to get enough confidence to go to Berlin and produce my best."

Mason does not compete until tomorrow but he was in Birmingham yesterday for an athletics "master class" and question and answer session with the eager pupils of Nelson Primary School, who looked at him in awestruck fashion when it was pointed out that his medal-winning height in Beijing was higher than the crossbar on the football goalposts next to them. Birmingham has become a second home to the 26-year-old since he made the decision to switch allegiance. He spends his summers living and training in England's second city and is a member of Birchfield Harriers, the Birmingham club that can boast a long line of Olympic medal winners. Mason, though, still speaks with a Caribbean lilt and is unquestionably a product of the Jamaican track and field system.

Indeed, he was a fellow medal-winning member of the same Jamaican team as a 15-year-old beanpole called Usain Bolt at the World Junior Championships in Kingston back in 2002. Two years later he won a bronze medal competing for Jamaica at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest. His progress thereafter was hampered by injury and a fall-out with his coach, Stephen Francis, prompting his switch to Great Britain. Mason, though, has continued to spend the winter in Jamaica and has rejoined Francis's MVP (Maximizing Velocity and Power) Track Club, training alongside Asafa Powell, former 100m world record holder, and Beijing Olympic champions Shelly-Ann Fraser (100m) and Melanie Walker (400m hurdles).

He has no regrets about hitching his allegiance to the Union Flag. "I don't even think about it now," he insisted. "The first year I used to think about what people would say in Jamaica but not any more. It just seems that this is where I should be."

Certainly, the red, white and blue on Mason's vest made little difference to the reaction he received when he bumped into one of his old team-mates after the high-jump final in Beijing. Bolt, heading for the changing area after the 200m semi-finals, embraced the silver medal winner as warmly as if he had been clad in yellow and green. "It doesn't matter to me who he competes for," Bolt said. "We're friends from way back."

The feeling is mutual. "I've known since the World Juniors that Usain has an enormous talent," Mason said. "But what he's doing right now is really incredible. Sometimes, I'm just blown away by his performances."

High five: The Britons outperforming Mason

Ranked above Mason this year:

Samson Oni (age 28) Belgrave Harriers

Has jumped 2.29m indoors this year. Narrowly missed Olympic selection in 2008.

Martyn Bernard (24) Wakefield Harriers

Ranked joint second with 2.27m indoor jump. Commonwealth silver medalist.

Tom Parsons (25) Birchfield Harriers

Has jumped 2.27m outdoors this summer. Former librarian at Aston University. Eighth in Olympic final.

Rob Mitchell (28) Sale Harriers

Fourth in the domestic order of merit for 2009 with a 2.24m clearance indoors.

Robbie Grabarz (21) Bedford and County AC

Jumped 2.23m in indoor season. Loughborough University student.

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