Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim is poised for a giant leap to global superstardom when he competes for the high jump gold at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in London today.
The wiry 26-year-old is already an Arab and Asian sporting icon, having won a bronze and silver at the Olympics besides a world indoor gold in addition to several Asian honours. But it’s a gold medal at the Olympics or the outdoor World Championships that puts an athlete in a totally different league, and Barshim would be all keyed up for the big occasion at the London Stadium.
Five years ago, Barshim overcame a painful stress fracture in his back win the bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. Some medical experts were of the opinion that Barshim should pull out of the event as it could cause further harm, but the Qatari nevertheless went ahead to clinch the bronze in a thrilling competition.
It’s that never-say-die attitude more than the bronze that catapulted him to fame and remains the defining moment of his career so far.
“It was hard because every doctor I spoke to said my season was done and that would be the end of my Olympic dream,” Barshim reminisced later.
“I was quite messed up in my head and I had many negative thoughts. I was lucky to surround myself with positive people; my coach, family and friends. It was at this point I thought I have two choices: I can either continue to complain about it or I can try to do something about it.”
Barshim, however, was adamant, saying he knew more about his body than the doctors.
“I was really stubborn. I thought, ‘I know my body best and even if I have a 50 per cent chance of making the Olympics, I should do everything possible to compete in London,” he added.
Despite not being able to lift weights or train properly in the build-up to the Olympics, Barshim went ahead and gave it his best shot.
“The first time I jumped for almost three months came in the qualification warm up. The jumps felt terrible, I had no feeling in my arms and legs. I had no time to find my old rhythm. Yet somehow I made it through qualification and that felt good.
“Leading into the final, I knew I was not in good shape but I had to banish any negative thoughts. I looked to my coach and we both agreed that I had nothing to lose. I just had to go out and enjoy myself, jump for my family and my country.”
It’s this commitment to Qatar that will drive him when he takes on a competitive field today. With a season’s best of 2.38m, the best among the finalists, today could be the day when global superstardom beckons for Barshim.
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