POSTED: March 12th 2014

High jump: Mutaz Essa Barshim leaps into history

Mutaz Essa Barshim took Qatar's first gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships / Doha Stadium Plus
Mutaz Essa Barshim took Qatar's first gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships / Doha Stadium Plus

AJU GEORGE CHRIS / Doha Stadium Plus

Everything happens for a reason. It was perhaps destiny playing its role that Mutaz Essa Barshim, the best high jumper Qatar and arguably Asia has ever seen, won his nation’s first gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, in his coach’s home country.

Without even caring to punch the air, as he normally does to celebrate, Mutaz ran to the sidelines and struggled himself above a glass barrier to hug his Polish trainer Stanislaw Szczyrba, his biggest critic and supporter.

And Qatar team manager Khalifa Abdulmalik, another man who has stood with Mutaz through thick and thin, joined in the embrace.

It was another glittering moment in their journey, which began five years ago. The victory belonged to each as it belonged to the other.

“I simply can’t explain how happy I’m at winning gold in my coach’s homeland. He appeared tensed throughout. But he seemed to have grown younger by 10 years after my win,” Mutaz told Doha Stadium Plus.

On that magical night in Sopot, Mutaz soared to a new Asian record of 2.38M in his first attempt in that height. He then watched tensely as Russia’s Ivan Ukhov got it right in his second try.

With the rest of the field dropping out, the two tried 2.40, but failed in all their attempts, allowing Mutaz to win by count-back. He had finally did what no other Qatari had been able to do — win a gold at the Indoor Worlds.

Szczyrba was not around when Mutaz bettered his own Asian outdoor record (2.40M) en route to winning the Eugene Diamond League title last June, as the 68-year-old decided to avoid the long flight to the US.

But nothing on earth could have stopped him from watching his 22-year-old ward make history.

“There was no way I was going to miss his performance in my own backyard. Going into the final, he approached each height aggressively,” said Szczyrba.

“It was a joy to watch him soar over the bar. Things will never be the same again for him. Mutaz is destined for greatness and I’m happy I showed him the way forward,” he said from Sopot.

When Szczyrba took charge of Mutaz in ’09, they got off on the wrong foot. While Mutaz did not care much about his coach’s ‘iron fist rulings,’ Szczyrba quickly grew tired of his ‘haughty’ teenage ward. Gradually, grudgingly, a mutual respect grew between them.

Szczyrba has greatly influenced Mutaz’s style. They worked on developing his fast take-off and natural elasticity, encouraging him to study the smooth sailing techniques of Polish two-time Olympic medallist Artur Partyka. And since then, there has been no looking back.

It may now seem like a trivia that Mutaz began his career first as a race walker, then became an endurance runner and later a long jumper. It was not until he was 15 that he tried high jump.

The decision, when it was finally made, proved to be life-changing. He started off modestly, with a 2.14 outdoor clearance at the ’09 GCC Youth Championship at Qatif, Saudi Arabia. He improved the mark dramatically to 2.31 at the Asian Junior Championships in Hanoi, Vietnam, a year later.

In ’11, he scaled 2.35M at the Asian Championships in Kobe, Japan, before winning bronze at the London Olympic Games with a 2.29 jump. And then came the memorable nights in Eugene and Sopot.

Qatar Athletics Federation President Dahlan Al Hamad was ecstatic with Mutaz’s show.

“This is one of the greatest moments in Qatar athletics. If anyone deserved a medal for determination, courage and hard work, it would be Mutaz. He has done our nation proud,” said Dahlan.

“While it’s certainly a high point for us, I can’t say whether it’ll be a turning point for Qatar athletics. That’s for others to judge many years down the line,” said the top official.

The country, forever looking to build ‘Brand Qatar,’ has invested heavily in foreign talent on the playing arena. While a few of those experiments proved to be successful, a majority has failed, even tarnishing Qatar’s image to an extent.

But luckily for Qatar, there is Mutaz. Home-grown and shining like a diamond.      

Keywords · Qatar · Mutaz Essa Barshim · Stanislaw Szczyrba · Qatar Olympic Committee

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