For more than two decades, Javier Sotomayor has been like an overarching glass ceiling on the high jump discipline.
Such is his domination of the event, that at the peak of his career, in an 11-year period between 1988 and 1998, Sotomayor’s had the Season’s Best effort in eight.
No conversation about the discipline is complete without mentioning the Cuban, who remains the only athlete to go more than eight feet. Twice.
Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim wants to be that athlete. The one who flies above the eight feet mark. And the one without whom talking about this sporting discipline is incomplete.
As part of that quest, the 26-year-old, who has come closest to the world record with a 2.43m jump in Brussels in 2014, went past a Sotomayor record on Thursday in Oslo.
Barshim had already won the Diamond League event at the Bislett Games with a 2.32m effort. But he didn’t stop at that and went higher, first clearing 2.35 on his third attempt, and then lining up for 2.38, which would have taken him past Sotomayor’s 28-year-old meeting record of 2.37m.
On his second attempt at the height, he rallied the crowd behind him. His lanky form, the entire 6 feet 2 inches of it, got into rhythm, long strides and all, and once he had cleared the wobbly bar at 2.38m, he fell on his back, was up on his feet the next moment and a tight fist was in air in celebration.
“That was the target; we came (here) for 2.38m. So mission completed,” he had said right after the win.
It wasn’t about the height. Barshim had gone past 2.37m more than a dozen times in the past.
It was about going past a Sotomayor mark. It was the symbolism of the moment.
“It was very important (to go past that Sotomayor barrier),” he later told Gulf Times in an e-mail.
“It will give me an extra push the next time I line up to write more history.
“I want my name to be mentioned at the mere mention of high jump. And that will only happen by quality jumps and by breaking records.”
Twitter went abuzz right after the Oslo win.
Qatar Olympic Committee president HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani congratulated Barshim on his achievement. “WellDone champ (sic),” Sheikh Joaan tweeted with four thumbs up emoticons. “thanks Boss (sic)” was Barshim’s reply.
“HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani has supported me no matter what,” Barshim told Gulf Times.
“He understands sport and what it needs. It’s motivating for me.”
And motivated he is. He has topped all three Diamond League meets that featured high jump this year, including at home in Doha. In a year that will see the World Championships, this time in London from August 4-13, Barshim seems to be peaking at the right time and pace.
But the man himself is aware of the good work he has done so far, but cautious at the same time.
“I’m taking it step by step. Things have looked good so far. Having said that, there is still work to be done. I hope I will be ready by then (London),” he said.
In 1989, a little less than a month after Sotomayor won in Oslo, the then 22-year-old Cuban went past the eight feet barrier for the first time in high jump history. He jumped 2.44m in San Juan.
Just like in Oslo, does he have any height in mind for London?
“No limits,” Barshim said. “I want to achieve as high as possible. No limits, none. Only extra fuel.”
With less than two months to go for the Worlds, Barshim, who participate in the Paris Diamond League meet next on July 1, has based himself in Sweden and said nothing so far in the season has warranted a special deviation.
“We are sticking to the plan, coach’s plan. Not trying anything special yet.”
The Qatari has said this before; the question is not ‘whether’ but ‘when’ the world record will be broken. The glass ceiling, he is certain, will be shattered.