Rio, 1 August 2016. He is a World Champion in high jump, he won a bronze medal for Qatar at the 2012 London Olympics and some say it’s only a matter of time until be breaks the world record. Aspire Academy graduate Mutaz Essa Barshim keeps challenging gravity on a daily basis, which makes him one of Qatar’s great medal hopes for the 2016 Olympic Games.
“What gravity huh?!!” The slogan on his caps says it all. Mutaz does not believe in limits. And many people don’t only see him as one of the candidates for the podium in Rio, but also one of the jumpers most likely to one day break Javier Sotomayor’s high jump world record of 2.45m. Are these high expectations more a curse than a blessing for the 25-year-old? “For sure, the more successful you become, the more people expect of you. But I always try to look on the positive side. So: Motivation rather than pressure. And obviously I’m doing what I love.”
Mutaz comes from a family with a passion for sports: All five of his siblings are into sports; his younger brother Moamer is following in his footsteps as a high jumper and came second only to Mutaz at the GCC Athletics Championships in Doha in 2013. Father Essa Mohamed Barshim was a middle- and long-distance runner before turning to coaching. “As a kid I played football, like most boys. It was my father who introduced me to track and field. Al Rayyan coach Abdul Hamdi spotted my talent and I then joined the long, triple and high jump teams.”
The rest is part of Qatar’s athletic history: Mutaz joined Aspire Academy where he could perfectly combine sports and education, and since 2009 he has been training with the Polish coach Stanislaw Szczyrba (QAF). Pieces of his career puzzle that include many highlights: World Junior title in Moncton, Canada in 2010, Gold at the 2011 Asian Athletics Championships and 2011 Military World Games, Bronze at the London 2012 Olympics and Silver at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Gold at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland. He also holds the second highest jump in history at 2:43m, a mere two centimetres short of Cuban Javier Sotomayor’s 23-year-old world record. Something he achieved winning a Diamond League event in Brussels in 2014.
In 2016 season he started with an Asian Indoor Championship title in Doha and produced a world-leading jump of 2.37m on the victory at IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham, England in June. What comes next? World record? Olympic gold? Is there one major goal for him in his career? “Not particularly. I just want to always give one hundred percent. You never know how long your career will last. And later when I look back, I want to be able to say that I always gave my best.”
Follow Mutaz in Rio:
Sunday, August 14: High-jump Q A+B, 20:30 (Brazil) / Monday, August 15, 2:30am (Qatar)
Tuesday, August 16: High-jump Final, 20:30 (Brazil) / Wednesday, August 17, 2:30am (Qatar)