By Jim Hynes
McGill track and field star Justin Darlington needs to jump seven centimetres higher if he wants to get to the next level in his sport. And while that less-than-three-inch difference can be pretty significant in a sport like high jumping, somehow it doesn’t sound like too big a stretch for the guy they call Jus Fly.
When he’s not studying, or trying to clear the bar or launch himself into the triple jump pit, Darlington is one of the world’s best slam-dunkers, a YouTube sensation who can boast a video with some 400,000 views (TFB: Dunks: Justin Darlington…6’4″ Is he the best dunker in the world?).
“I’ve liked dunking since I was young, said Darlington, a 21-year-old native of Ajax, Ont., who started his studies at McGill last fall. “In elementary school I would jump off the walls and dunk, messing around with my friends. My favourite players weren’t always the best players, but the were the best dunkers. The year Vince Carter won the slam dunk contest at the All-Star Game, I was going crazy.”
Darlington, who started competing in local slam dunk contests while still in his teens, was noticed by some slam dunk teams after he posted a few videos of his high-flying self on YouTube. Today, he’s a member of Team Flight Brothers, one of the biggest and best known of the travelling slam dunk crews. Thanks to his slamming skills, Darlington has been able to travel world and make some money, too. He’s performed in most U.S. states and in far off places like Romania, France, England and China – with much success. He estimates he’s won all but four or five of the 60 or so events he’s competed in.
YouTube also played a big part in the most recent phase of Darlington’s athletic life. That’s where Athletics Canada coach Daniel St. Hilaire first saw him performing his gravity defying jumps, and convinced himself the slam dunker could be turned into a high jumper. After the two met, St. Hilaire was the one who had some convincing to do, namely that he could turn his newest charge into a world-class high jumper in time for the 2012 London Summer Olympics, something that Darlington still has trouble coming to terms with. Soon a plan was hatched for Darlington to move to Montreal to train with St. Hilaire and study Marketing at McGill, where he is also a member of the track and field team.
The move to a new city and starting university has been a big challenge, Darlington admits. On top of his studies and a training regimen that keeps him in the gym several hours every day, he continues to perform with Team Flight Brothers, something that helps pay the bills and keep his slam-dunking profile high.
“I think it went pretty well,” Darlington says of his new life as a student in Montreal. “It was kind of hard with the track and also the slam dunking – all the travelling. Sometimes I missed things and had to work hard to catch up. It’s different. It’s like starting all over again. I’m still getting used to it.”
If his new life in Montreal required some adjustments, Darlington’s first year as a high jumper and a triple jumper was an unqualified success. He earned performance-of-the-meet honours for field events with a school record leap of 2.07 metres in the men’s high jump at the Quebec university track and field championship meet at McGill in February, where broke his own Redmen record of 2.05m. It was the third time this season he had broken the McGill record. Darlington followed that up with by winning silver and bronze medals at the CIS track and field championship a few weeks later. They marked McGill’s first medals at Nationals since 2006. Darlington placed second in the men’s high jump with a leap of 2.04 metres and placed third in the triple jump at 14.87m. He missed school records in both events by three centimetres and earned CIS second-team all-Canadian honours for his silver-medal performance. By season’s end Darlington ranked second in Canada in the high jump and third in the triple jump. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t tried either of those disciplines since Grade 10.
Now Darlington is concentrating on gaining those seven centimetres between the 2.10 metres he’s currently clearing and the 2.17 needed to attain the carded athlete status that would provide him with crucial government funding. In July, he’ll get the chance to measure his progress at the Canadian Nationals. Darlington and St. Hilaire may also head to Europe for a select event or two this summer.