His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani attended the World Athletics Championships high jump final in front of a capacity crowd at the Khalifa International Stadium on Friday night to watch the local diamond, Mutaz Barshim, defend his world title. The 28-year-old Qatari didn’t disappoint, delivering exactly what His Highness and the spectators were expecting to see.
By clearing 2.37m using his flawless technique, Barshim became the first male high jumper, who managed to win back-to-back world titles and only the second multiple world champion in the history of the event, behind Cuban legend and world record holder Javier Sotomayor.
Four years ago, when a group of journalists visited Doha with IAAF’s project “A day in the life of Mutaz Barshim”, the President of the Qatar Athletics Federation explained that Barshim is a real national treasure.
“We all – the federation, the NOC, the Army Club – played our part for his result, supporting him financially and mentally,” Mr. Thani Abdulrahman Al-Kuwari said.
“Years ago, we didn’t know how to explain to children what athletics is. We have been spending hours for this, but still the result was close to zero. The situation changed when Mutaz started to shine at international level.”
Now, with the World Championships taking place in his native Qatar, Barshim was overwhelmed with the support.
“I didn’t ask them to come today, I am jumping and they just showed up, the stadium was full. They believed in me, they supported me and I believe this will spark something, for the nation itself, for the upcoming events. Today I saw the joy in people’s eyes. They didn’t believe it, now they do.”
Competition was going well for the local star, until the bar was raised to 2.33m. Two failures put him with his back against the wall. He temporarily lost the lead and had only one attempt left with the pressure piling.
“I wasn’t 100 percent ready, but with all these people cheering for me like this, I just forgot everything,” Barshim said.
“In my third attempt over 2.33m I simply said ‘I am just going to do it’. I didn’t think about tactics or technique. I just had to put everything I had, to survive. That was going through my mind, use the power that I have, because that would be my last job. I don’t have to save energy.
“I felt like, OK it doesn’t matter what happens tonight, if I injure myself, if it’s my last competition, I am going to push everything out.”
Desire to shine in front of a home crowd led to another miracle in Barshim’s life. Just one year ago, a serious injury questioned not only his appearance at his home World Championships, but also his future career in athletics.
“I think one year ago I got off the crutches, I took my first step,” said Barshim at the press conference.
“My injury was very serious; it would have meant career-ending. Then you start questioning yourself, it’s normal when you are facing a difficult situation.”
Barshim graduated from the famous Qatar Aspire Academy and was very diligent and successful in school. He always said that Aspire is his second home and the very special place where he started taking his journey in athletics seriously.
“The school schedule was always settled up in the way which allowed us to train twice a day without being too tired.” Barshim recalled.
“Now, the deep learning of foreign languages is implemented in the upper classes of Academy. However, English was always easy to learn for me. I also loved math. And social science, because our teacher has always gone beyond the school curriculum. His lessons have largely shaped my outlook and instilled an interest in how our world lives.”
“According to IQ tests, Mutaz was one of the best pupils in our academy – 88.12%. Believe me, this is an extraordinary indicator,” assured former Barshim’s teacher in maths Haidar Fadlalla. “He has always been unsurpassed in calculations. His brain is capable of working in a computer mode, calculating the best moves for many steps in advance. He is a champion both in his soul and in his mind.”
“I liked studying at Aspire Academy, Barshim added. “But honestly, I still can’t figure out how I got there. When I was a kid, I was weak, long-winded, awkward, and my results were far from the Academy’s standards. However, I passed some tests, passed a bunch of medical examinations and then it was miraculously determined that I was still capable of playing sports at a higher level.
“While studying in the Aspire Academy, I was always waiting for the weekends to come, when big groups of our pupils had to go to competitions. Usually groups left the Academy at early morning. At night, the staff carried out launch boxes putting them near the bedrooms’ doors. Of course, we were waiting for it! Covering our faces with clothing, we stealthily scoured the corridor, stealing chocolates from every single box. Then the truly sweet life came!
When the famous European coach Stanislaw Szczyrba was invited into Qatar to bring athletics at the higher level, he met the frivolous teenager, who had never been looking forward to becoming a real athletics star.
“When I arrived in Qatar, Mutaz had a personal best of 2.14. At his first training session with me, he cleared 2.05 with a creak,” explained coach Stanley.
“He didn’t look special, but I saw that he was born to jump high. I ran some of my secret tests with him and realised that I had a real diamond in my hands. I have taught Mutaz a lot, starting from the nuances of psychology up to the smallest details in technique.
“I teach him little things, the secrets of which will never be opened to the eyes of other people. I devote 100 percent of my life to our teamwork, but I always get the same response from Mutaz.”
Now, team ‘Iron Stanley’ and Mutaz Essa Barshim are the pride of Qatar. Together they achieved the Asian record of 2.43m, grabbed two world titles and took two Olympic medals; bronze from London 2012 and silver from Rio 2016. But the biggest goal of the team hasn’t been reached yet.
“Tokyo is a big target, but I don’t really know yet how can I approach it,” Barshim smiles.
“I need to talk to my coach, my team and see what the plan for the next season will be. My coach is a master. Definitely, he has something in his mind. But the most important thing for me is to stay healthy.”