The British University Championships in Sheffield represent the pinnacle of varsity sport. With over 24 sports taking place and over 5,000 athletes involved in competing, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Matthew Kiernan caught up with one of Bournemouth’s top medal prospects, Canadian heptathlete Jillian Drouin.
To fight to the finish and never give up. That’s the attitude of Jillian Drouin, Bournemouth’s highly rated multi-eventer. Last year proved to be the Canadian’s best season of her career, but after also simultaneously facing the anguish of missing out on qualification for the Beijing Olympics by the smallest of margins, she almost walked away from the sport altogether. Now though Drouin is back stronger than ever, and has London 2012 firmly in her sights, and hopes that the Indoor Championships in Sheffield later this month, is the first step to her achieving her Olympic dream.
Drouin has already enjoyed unprecedented success in varsity athletics, across the Atlantic in her native Canada. While representing Syracuse College she won back to back Eastern Universities titles in the heptathlon in 2007-8. In the process, she also recorded an Olympic B qualifying standard of 5,890 points, agonisingly close to the A standard 6,000 mark needed to automatically qualify for Beijing. Unfortunately for Drouin, she would ultimately just miss out on selection.
“At the time, it was a big disappointment”, said the 21 year-old. “But it was also a big jump up in points, and it was a real improvement for me, so I’ve got to be happy.” Such optimism is pleasing to see after what could have been a potentially fatal blow and cause some athletes to leave the sport completely. Not Jillian though. Despite not being at the Games and having to watch fellow countrywoman Jessica Zelinka power to 5th place in the heptathlon, Drouin is now targeting London in three years time. “My goal is definitely 2012. I want to reach for it. It was tough not being in China, but now I’m more determined than ever to get there.”
Having arrived in Bournemouth in September to pursue a chiropractic career at the Anglo European Chiropractic College at Lansdowne, Drouin took a cautious approach when returning to training. “I took three months off in the autumn, to settle down, get my studies in order and adjust to living in a new country. But it was also to recover after such a demanding
season. The heptathlon is so demanding, you can only ever do three or four competitions a year.”
Things also haven’t been easy in terms of re-locating. New students are almost always accustomed to swapping cities to move here to Bournemouth; Drouin though also had to swap continents. But while some may miss the traditional home comforts like television and home cooking, Drouin misses something else, namely her political activism. “I do miss being active like I was at Syracuse. Obviously there was a lot going on with George Bush was President, as a lot of people disagreed with what he was doing. But I still keep up with the latest while here.”
Now though the Canadian is fully settled. Having based herself at Kings Park athletics stadium in Boscombe, training has been going well and is injury free. During her three-month break she has also been part of the university basketball team, who currently lie in third place in their division one conference. “It was tough starting up again, but I’ve been steadily getting back into it and things have been going well. Competing in multi-events is so different and your always prone to injuries, so that was part of the reason for why for not committing to 2012 right away, as it takes a lot of work and commitment to get there.”
This is an important factor. Britain’s number one decathlete Dean Macey retired last year after battling with injuries for over a decade. Olympic heptathlon champion Carolina Kluft is now just concentrating on single disciplines because of injury worries. With a history of tendonitis and previous sprained ankles already in her career, Drouin may also follow suit. “I have thought about stopping heptathlon and specialising in high jump. Its certainly my fav
ourite event and enjoy the most. I started out as a high jumper before switching to multi-events so to return to it is always a possibility.” For now though, the heptathlon will continue to be Drouin’s event of choice.
With no multi-events available at the BUCS Championships in Sheffield, Drouin will be having a busy time over the two-day event, as she’ll be competing in no less than five events; the 60 metres, 60m hurdles, high jump, long jump and shot putt. But ever the professional, she’s not fazed at the challenge before her. “For indoor competition it’s always hard to predict. You always look to peak for the outdoor season and use the indoors as a comparison. At this time of the year, I would just like to be in decent shape. Obviously I’m going to try and win as many of the events as possible. I’ll just be happy if I’m at the same level that I was last summer.”
With such confidence and self-belief, it would be hard to bet against her.
The BUCS Championships will be held in Sheffield between the 11th-15th March. The indoor athletics will be held over the weekend.
Note: This is set to be published in Spring edition of The Wire and on www.bwire.co.uk
Photos taken by Jeff Chui and Rich Predoncelli