Mason bolts from the blue with leap to unlikely silver
Published 20/08/2008 | 11:33
Well, it could have been more of a surprise. But only if the towering Jamaican draped in a Union Flag celebrating a British medal had been Usain Bolt.
In fact, Bolt shot into the Mixed Zone, the area deep in the bowels of Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium, to wrap his arms around Great Britain's first track and field medallist of the 2008 Olympic Games. If only the world's fastest man had been blessed with a father born in England's capital city.
Still, British athletics is grateful that Germaine Mason happens to be the son of a Londoner. He still speaks with a Kingston accent – Kingston, Jamaica, that is. He still lives there, too, for most of the year. But when the bar was raised to 2.34m in the men's high jump final yesterday the 24-year-old was wearing the red, white and blue of Team GB as he soared to claim the unlikeliest of silver medals.
No one in the packed out, 91,000-seater stadium seemed more pleased for him than Bolt, who had just qualified for today's 200m final, half-jogging to victory in his semi-final in 20.09sec. "We're friends from way back," Bolt said. "I'm very happy for him because he's been through a lot. He had knee surgery and he's coming back now. It doesn't matter who he competes for. I'm happy for him."
The pair were medal winners for Jamaica at the World Junior Championships in Kingston in 2002. Since then Mason has been on some journey to make it to the Olympic podium, behind Andrei Solonov of Russia, who won with 2.36m, and as Britain's first high jump medallist since Steve Smith in 1996. His switch of allegiance came in 2006, after a falling out with Stephen Francis, the coach he shared with Asafa Powell. He has based himself in Birmingham for the European summer season thereafter, joining Birchfield Harriers, but such has been his injury-hampered form he was dropped from UK Athletics' Lottery Funding list last November.
"That's one of the things that motivated me to come out here and do my best," Mason said, "because track and field is not a sport that pays a lot.It's very tough. But that doesn't matter. I'm here, silver medallist."
Indeed he was, but did he feel British or Jamaican? "I feel very British," he said. "Great Britain is my home and that's the way it's going to be for ever."
So was Birmingham his home? "It's Jamaica," he said. "I spend six months a year in Jamaica. Since last winter I've been training with Stephen Francis's group again. Then I come to Europe and do the European circuit."
It is little wonder that Mason appears confused. His father, David, was born in London but lives in Jamaica. His mother, Carol, is Jamaican but has lived in Acton, west London, since 1988. He also happens to be a Bolton Wanderers supporter. He was brought up in the same street in Kingston as Ricardo Gardener, the Wanderers midfielder.
The fact that Mason possesses a world-class talent has also got somewhat confused, amid faltering form and lingering injury problems. He was ranked third in the world in 2003 and won a bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in 2004. His success can only act as an inspiration to British high jumpers. There were two with him in the final yesterday, Tom Parsons placing eighth and Martyn Barnard ninth, both with 2.25m.
Sadly, there was no medal for Andy Baddeley in the men's 1500m final, the British hope finishing ninth in 3min 35.37sec as Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain held off Kenya's Asbel Kiprop for gold. Still, there was a hint of medal potential in Martyn Rooney's raking stride as he registered the fourth fastest qualifying time for tomorrow's 400m final – 44.60sec, a personal best.