Derek Drouin has an apartment that's a short hop onto Highway 401 to practice at York University. He makes the commute in a new BMW.
Canada's world high jump champion moved to Toronto in the fall after training largely alone last season in Bloomington, Indiana.
He's reluctant to say last season — which included world and Pan Am Games gold — was rough, "because it seems on paper like a dream season." But the 25-year-old from Corunna, Ont., said there were times he was tempted to call it a year.
"It's definitely been a shift from last season," Drouin said. "I had a tough time being by myself and not being with my coach and kind of having to work through things long distance, and there were really, really rough parts in the season where I basically just wanted to stop."
Drouin was speaking at a recent BMW event to announce its team of Olympic hopefuls — Drouin, swimmer Ryan Cochrane, golfer Brooke Henderson, kayaker Mark de Jonge, and divers Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito. The athletes have the use of a BMW for the length of their sponsorship deals. Drouin chose a black X3.
Drouin spent seven years in Indiana, four of them competing for the Hoosiers under coach Jeff Huntoon. He stayed in Indiana after graduation because it's where he was comfortable, and opted to stay last season even after Huntoon moved to Toronto to work for Athletics Canada.
Huntoon made periodic trips to Bloomington.
"It was all kind of long distance. . . most days I was by myself," Drouin said. "I would kind of try to wait to jump until he got there, but a lot of times it was a couple of weeks in between so there were a lot of times when I was jumping by myself."
"There were a lot of days when I was literally the only person on the track, and that makes things really hard."
Into the spotlight
Still, Drouin rebounded to win gold at the Pan American Games, leading teammate Mike Mason in a Canadian 1-2 finish, then captured Canada's first world high jump title the following month in Beijing.
"I was proud with how I was able to work through it and went from a pretty low, low point to getting through that and competing as well as I've ever competed," Drouin said. "So yeah, I was happy with that, and it kind of gives me confidence to know that I can work through those kinds of things."
Drouin is happy to have training partners for the first time since he was in college, where he won five NCAA outdoor and indoor titles.
"That's made a huge difference being around people who are excited about training, and have the same goals that I have," he said. "It makes a huge difference, and it's been really, really positive for me."
Drouin flew under the radar before winning bronze at the London Olympics. That has all changed. The spotlight will follow him into Rio as one of Canada's top medal hopes.
"I was living in the States, and I was basically completely unknown," he said. "So it's been a different road for me but I think I'm handling it well.
"I was totally, totally shielded [from the pre-Olympic hype] heading into London, and I was pretty young in London so I think that was a really good thing for me to be shielded from everything.
"But now I'm more seasoned obviously, and I'm excited for the buildup this year."