Doha: Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim begins his 2018 outdoor campaign on the back of his most successful season ever, which saw him become 2017 World Champion, Diamond League Champion, IAAF World Athlete of the Year and the first high jumper since 2004 to be undefeated for a whole season. Despite this incredible success, Barshim remains as motivated and focussed as ever with his sights firmly set on victory at a home World Championships in 2019, Olympic gold in 2020 and the elusive high jump world-record that has been standing for 25 years.
Barshim will be the headline name at the 2018 Doha Diamond League to be held on May 4th at Qatar Sports Club, where he is looking ‘to achieve new records’ on the road to ‘winning more Diamond Trophies’.
“Last year was extraordinary for me. I didn’t lose at all — it was the perfect season, everything came together and we were jumping very well. We made history,” DohaDiamondLeague.com quoted Barshim as saying on his incredible achievements in 2018.
In particular, winning the IAAF World Athlete of the year award was a special moment. “When I was young, I used to watch athletes winning this award and I wished I could be in their place or even just be nominated for the award. Today I won it so it is a dream come true.”
Staying hungry for further success can be a difficult challenge for athletes who have achieved so much, but this is not the case with Barshim.
“I always try to find things that I haven’t achieved yet and make them my target, and this is how I always find new motivation. I want to achieve as much as possible.
The support of his friends and family also helps.
“They play a very big role in my life. There are times when I feel like there is so much going on and I’m very tired and that’s when you need your close people around you to give some positive talk. My family and friends do a great job to keep me on the right track.”
However, there is no one more pivotal to Barshim’s success and motivation than his coach, Stanislaw Szczybra. “He does whatever it takes. If he needs to slap me to motivate me, he would do it!”. The two have been working together for almost nine years and have built a very successful relationship.
“He is like my father and I am like his son. He is always there for me and we can talk about everything. He is a genius when it comes to details of high jump, he literally breathes this sport and it is his life. I have learned so much from him and I’m still learning.”
Commenting on what his future targets are, Barshim does not hesitate in his answer.
“Winning the Olympic gold is the ultimate goal for me. I have already won Olympic silver and bronze but still not the gold.” However, the 2019 World Championships at home in Doha are also at the forefront of his mind. “I will not go for anything less than the gold. When you compete in your home town, you want to make a spark, which will later become a legacy.
“I feel that I’m inspiring people by doing what I’m doing and by always trying to be the best of the best and even better. Families bring their children to the stadium because their kids watched me there and they want them to be an athlete!
“I want people to enjoy sport as a lifestyle and enjoy their time in it, and not to think about the Olympics as the first goal because it comes step by step. Sport is not just about playing, it could be their life and career! This is what I’m trying to change and I can see that we are getting there.”
Barshim would be certain to cement his name in athletics folklore if he is able to beat the longstanding world-record of 2.45m set by Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor in 1993. Barshim last year became the first athlete in history to clear over 2.40m for five consecutive seasons and in 2014 came just 2cm short of the world-record setting his personal best of 2.43m. He still believes that he can achieve it. “If I don’t believe that I can, it is going to be a waste of time coming to the stadium and trying to achieve something there.”
Describing what it will take, he says:
“You need the perfect day! First of all, you need to be in good shape, you need to have good conditions because if it is rainy, windy or cold it is not going to be ideal to try to achieve the world record. Also, you need a strong competition where everybody pushes each other. I have been in a good shape for the world record a few times but I just need to be patient and wait for everything to come together in a competition, like the good weather and the good atmosphere.”
However, despite the conditions being right, there are many other factors that go into executing the perfect jump. “It is like an aeroplane. You have the run up where you need enough speed to take off in the perfect way. I should run gradually, I can’t just be speeding. It should be step by step until I reach the curve where I need to lean back. At the take-off moment, I have to put all my power in it along with the perfect timing, otherwise, I might injure myself.
When I’m high enough, I need to arch myself and lean over the bar. I should think about my shoulder, take care of my arm and my knee. It is a lot of details and I only have a few seconds to do it but that is the process for a perfect jump.”
With so much to think about, what exactly is going through Barshim’s mind just before he jumps?
“Nothing, just me, my coach and the bar.”
Looking ahead to this year’s Doha Diamond League and having the opportunity to compete at home, Barshim said: “Sometimes in the tough moments in competitions, you need that extra push. Having your family and friends around you supporting you kicks off your adrenaline, and then you feel like you don’t want to think about anything else, you are so pumped and so hyped that you don’t care about any technique, you just want to jump. This is the kind of energy that you need.”
Tickets for the Doha Diamond League are on sale online at https://bit.ly/2GVnHqN and at Virgin Megastores across Qatar.