Seven years ago, Mutaz Essa Barshim was locked in a sensational men’s high jump battle in Rome. The evening ended with the Qatari star soaring over what was then his personal best and an Asian record of 2.41m, while Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko (2.34m) and Erik Kynard (2.31m) of the US finished second and third respectively.
Since then Barshim returned to the Golden Gala in the Italian capital only once (in 2016), but not with similar results, clearing 2.27m.
Elsewhere, however, Barshim has only soared, becoming the only high jumper to fly over 2.40m for six straight years, getting closest to Javier Sotomayor’s 2.45m world record with a 2.43m in Brussels in 2014 and becoming the only high jumper to win the World Athlete of the Year Award (2017).
More importantly, he is the only high jumper to successfully retain his world title when he followed up his 2017 world title victory with a spectacular one at home in 2019.
Today, Barshim, who turns 30 later this month, returns to Golden Gala, this time in the heart of Renaissance art and culture — Florence, Italy.
“I am very happy to return to Italy. It’s fantastic to be in Florence. I love history and art. I don’t know if I will have the chance to visit the city, but I want to return here with my family in the future,” Barshim told a press conference at Palazzo Vecchio on Wednesday.
Barshim will be joined by world leader Ilya Ivanyuk (2.37m) of Russia, who beat the former in Doha on May 28 with a 2.33m effort to the Qatari’s 2.30m, and dear friend Gianmarco Tamberi in Florence.
Tamberi and Barshim’s mutual admiration and respect for each other is not news and their warmth was evident when they met yesterday.
Asked what advice they would give each other, Tamberi, the Italian favourite, addressed his friend and said: “I don’t have anything to teach to this guy because he’s the best high jumper ever, but it doesn’t mean you are unbeatable, remember.”
Barshim, still searching his best form in an Olympic year, is hoping that a top field will help him in his quest. “With a strong field you are going to perform much better,” Barshim said. “There’s pressure, but I love that pressure – it only makes me better.”
With three Diamond League trophies in the cabinet, Barshim said he definitely has space for a fourth.
“Track and field is my passion. I have grown up watching it. I grew up in a track and field family and used to watch my father compete on television. Before there was Diamond League, it was the Golden League, and I used to go to the arena and watch all these athletes compete and I really, really wanted to compete,” Barshim said.
“Today, I am here have three Diamond League trophies, and I am just really, really blessed. I am really looking forward to another one; I have a good place in my house for another one.
“To me Diamond League is really, really important; to prepare for the Olympics, it is the perfect competition.”
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