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Best of the Decade: The case for Derek Drouin

This week, the Hoosier Network is taking a look back at the best Indiana athletes of the decade. We surveyed current and former beat writers, along with others in the IU Athletics sphere, to see who they believe the best of the best are.

The final rankings will be published Friday, and leading up to that we’ll have guest columns from voters where they make a case for certain athletes. Today, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Communications and Fan Experience Jeremy Gray writes about high jumper Derek Drouin.

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Unimpressed.

On a balmy night in Rio in 2016, a 6-foot-6 Canadian named Derek Drouin watched his lone final competitor in the Olympic high jump kick the bar to the ground. The failure to clear thereby granted the statuesque IU grad the Olympic gold medal.

Big Ten Outdoor Track Championships, day 2, 05/11/13_Mike Dickbernd

The NBC broadcast of the aftermath showed Drouin putting his clothes, shoes, and water bottle neatly back into his duffle bag. He didn’t smile. He wasn’t still locked in some competitive trance either. He was just unimpressed. “They put the bar there, so I just jumped over it,” was the expression on his visage.

It was frankly amazing to watch. Biggest moment of his competitive life and Derek made sure his bag was packed.

Six years earlier I interviewed Drouin for our institutionally produced TV show that used to air on the Big Ten Network. He left and one of the students on the crew said, “I live next door to that guy and play video games with him every day. I had no idea he was on the track team.” Turns out, he didn’t want to impress anyone else with the considerable number of wholly accurate tales of glory he could share about himself.

Derek Drouin is one of the greatest athletes in IU history. Not recent history. Not track and field history. All athletics history.

He is the first man to win five NCAA Championships in the high jump. He was the 2013 Big Ten Athlete of the Year. As an undergraduate, he won a bronze in the 2012 Olympics. In 2013, he won the Bowerman Award (track and field’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy).

He did all of this in the most competitive era in the history of intercollegiate high jump. He has cleared the unimaginable height of 7 feet, 10 ½ inches. Basically jumping over Shaquille O’Neal with two beers stacked on top of his head.

In the years since his departure from Bloomington, Drouin won Olympic gold and the World Championships. His demeanor was always the same. His approach always the same. His celebrations, if you can call them that, were always the same. Humble and unimpressed.

It’s not that he could jump higher than everyone else. Even in college. He just wouldn’t miss when he shouldn’t. His quiet demeanor reminded one of the great Bjorn Borg. The John McEnroes of high jump would eventually crack in an emotional heap beneath him.

He might have seemed unimpressed. That does not mean we should be unimpressed. He is one of our all-time greats and a genuinely wonderful person.

Previous Best of the Decade columns

Tevin Coleman, by Mike Miller

Andrew Gutman, by Josh Eastern

Victor Oladipo, by Alex McCarthy

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