High jump Olympic champion Mutaz Barshim showed signs of rust as the Qatari legend finished second behind Shelby McEwen at the Xiamen Diamond League meeting on Saturday. Barshim’s rustiness was understandable as the 32-year-old was taking part in his first competition since taking a six-month break with back and hip problems.
The three-time world champion nailed first-time clearances at 2.15m, 2.20m and 2.24m but then hit a brick wall, failing to negotiate 2.27m and 2.29m. World indoor silver medallist McEwen was the only man to succeed at 2.27m. That first-time clearance was sufficient to earn the US jumper the victory ahead of Barshim, with New Zealand’s world indoor champion Hamish Kerr in third, also with 2.24m.
Barshim said he was satisfied with his performance despite not finishing on top of the podium. “I didn’t get the win, but it’s a good opening to be honest, it is a 2.27 today. I had to adjust my run up. It’s a bit of a tricky situation. It was windy, rainy, and again windy and rainy. So it’s a bit tough to jump to be honest, but I think I should be satisfied with the opening of the season,” he said.
Barshim has prioritized training in the build-up to his Olympic defence later this year, not competing since winning his third Asian Games title in October 2023 and skipping the World Indoor championships.
Barshim, who is aiming to become the first to ever athlete to win two men’s Olympic high jump titles, said it was difficult to make a comeback from injury, that too at his age. “During the race, every jump feels different because I can’t do my job which is very fast jumping. I have to adjust a lot. In my 20s, I was much healthier, I didn’t have so much injury, but I didn’t have so much experience. And now it’s the opposite way,” he noted.
“I am a more experienced jumper, but I have a lot of injuries, so I need to adjust. I am trying to stay humble and trying to think of every day as a new beginning, regardless of what I’ve achieved so far,” Barshim added.
The Qatari icon paid credit to his team and family for keeping him grounded and said he is hungry to improve despite his phenomenal achievements.
“If you go to my house, you’re not going to see anything. I keep everything away. I try not to make my mind go toward satisfaction, and it’s not easy, but I have a good team around me, and my family too, so they help me and give me mental strength.”
“As to the secret that keeps me going so far, I would say staying hungry. I always want to improve myself every single day, even if that improvement doesn’t necessarily make me jump higher. I focus on details. The quality of work, and not just the work itself. Now it’s just the beginning of the year when the season opens, and the target for me is always the Olympics. It’s my 4th Olympics, it’s very important to me, I want to make sure I’m going to be there ready to fight and jump high. So everything I’m doing now is according to the plan to be ready for the Olympics,” Barshim said.
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