Mason's heading in the right direction

High-jumper on the road to success after a tough time on and off track
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The Independent Online

It was fair to say that Germaine Mason was in a state of some disorientation last Tuesday morning. The native Jamaican, who high-jumped to Olympic silver for the land of his London-born father in Beijing last August, was a late arrival for the announcement of Britain's World Championship team at the headquarters of UK Athletics on the southern outskirts of Birmingham, just off the M42 near Solihull. "This is my first time driving here," he said, somewhat sheepishly. "I missed the exit for the motorway."

A highly affable soul, Mason has endured a difficult time of it this year. In April his 16-year-old brother, Andre, was jailed for life for his part in the horrific gang murder of a student. On the track and field front, Germaine missed the first three months of the year because of knee surgery. Two weeks out from the World Championships in Berlin, though, the 26-year-old Birchfield Harrier has got his high-jumping heading in the right direction again: upwards.

At the Aviva London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace last weekend, Mason improved his season's best from 2.25m to 2.31m, which will have pleased Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics.

Assessing his prospects for Berlin, Mason, who switched allegiance from Jamaica to Britain three years ago, said: "Last year I jumped 2.31m at Crystal Palace and out in Beijing I won a silver medal. I know once I'm in the final the field will be wide open. Andrei Silnov, the Olympic champion, is out. Stefan Holm will not be there [the 2004 Olympic champion has retired]. So the medals are going to be up for grabs. There's just one high jumper who has performed consistently this year. That's the Russian, Ivan Ukhov."

You may well remember the name. Ukhov was the high-jumper who became a YouTube sensation in September last year for his alcohol-induced antics at the Athletissima Grand Prix meeting at Lausanne in Switzerland.

Fuelled by vodka and Red Bull following an argument with his girlfriend, the Muscovite can be seen on the comic clips removing his tracksuit with great difficulty, and swatting away a trackside official before ambling up to the take-off area and flopping straight down on to the landing bed, under the high jump bar. He was reprimanded for his behaviour by the International Association of Athletics Federations and has since been a man on a mission.

In February this year Ukhov jumped 2.40m at an indoor meeting at Piraeus in Greece, just 3cm shy of the Cuban Javier Sotomayor's 20-year-old world indoor record. In March he won the European indoor title in Turin.

"I am doing everything I can to show I am a good athlete and to improve my name after Lausanne last year," he said then. And in the outdoor season the 23-year-old has been further restoring his reputation, jumping 2.35m to jointly lead the world rankings with his Russian team-mate Yaroslav Ryabakov and Andra Manson of the United States. He cleared 2.34m on four other occasions.

Mason was in the high jump competition with Ukhov in Lausanne last year and again at this year's meeting there three weeks ago, when the Russian finished joint runner-up and the Briton sixth.

"He's a funny guy," Mason said, chuckling. "He was a crowd favourite in Lausanne this year. When they announced his name everyone was cheering. They remembered what he did last year."

So does Mason. "The bar was at 2.26m at the time and I had cleared it already," he recalled. "I thought that he was finished and then I saw him put his spikes on and get ready to jump. I thought, 'Is this guy serious?' He was wobbling all over the place, pushing the officials, and then everyone just started laughing. But I had to stop because it was in the middle of the competition. His agent came over and he was crazy after that. Then they took him away and the competition continued.

"It was a dangerous thing he did, drinking and competing at the same time. But, like I said, he's a funny guy. He got a million hits when the clip was first on the net. I've watched it again and had a few laughs. It's one of my favourites on YouTube."