When he first came to Doha, Stanislaw ‘Stanley’ Szczyrba had only planned on coaching the Qatar national team, specifically Rashid al-Mannai, for a few months.
Eight years later, as he sees Mutaz Barshim walk out to a thunderous applause at the Hamad International Airport, something inside the Polish/Swedish coach moves. Perhaps the thought, that all this would never have happened, had it not been for…
“I didn’t come for Mutaz. It was for Rashid. Mutaz was one of those 18-year-olds, who had jumped 2.14m till then. That’s nothing,” Szczyrba says.
“I spot talent. It’s what I do after all these years. Many people have come to me, saying this athlete is great, that athlete is great. But I have just shook my head and said ‘no’.
“Because of Rashid they brought me to Qatar. Otherwise I had no plans, I had a really big group in Sweden. One can be satisfied with 2.20m but we were already jumping higher than that.”
The coach points at Barshim, who is obliging every request for a photograph, and says, “Today, he is doing more than 2.40m.”
Even that’s an understatement. Barshim is the first high jumper to jump 2.40m-plus for five straight years, starting 2013.
But the progress from 2.14m in 2009 to a world champion eight years later, has been long and winding, and rewarding at the same time for the coach.
“He had the urge to do better but what he didn’t have was correct movement and techniques. I taught him to control those movements. He has shown he is good at grasping these techniques and get better,” Szczyrba says.
But it wasn’t all hunky dory when Szczyrba first came to Qatar in 2009. “I had told myself, let’s go to Doha for three months and see how it goes. After three months of training, I decided to test him (Barshim), and it was really, really bad. But I don’t know why, I asked him if he could touch the roof in the room, which was pretty high, and he just took off, and I was amazed at what he did. From that day to today, I want to stay in Doha because I want to work with this guy,” he says.
And work is not finished yet Szczyrba says. “He is only 26. The best age for high jumper is 28, 29, 30. So he is on his way to the top.”
“I have worked so many years as coach. But I have talent as coach today… he gave me.”
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