Moments after he had set a new Asian high jump record at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene on Saturday (1), Mutaz Essa Barshim entered a state of euphoria brought on by his spectacular performance at Hayward Field coupled with the giddy fatigue he was enduring.
When asked by the track side announcer how he was feeling all he could respond with was: “I am happy, I am so excited, I love you all!”
Of course, the Eugene crowd embraced him warmly after witnessing the first 2.40m jump outdoors for almost 13 years and, as he left the track following a victory lap, he passed a gauntlet of autograph seekers. stopping graciously for each one.
After returning to his hotel for a quick shower, he and his manager Paul Doyle rushed off to the home of Olympic champion and World decathlon record holder Ashton Eaton for a barbecue.
Barshim had locked up victory in Eugene with his flawless progress to 2.36m whereas his two main rivals Erik Kynard and Derek Drouin had taken multiple jumps to clear that height. Twice he missed at 2.39m which would have equalled his personal best set in Lausanne last year but then he decided to roll the dice and gamble.
“I was a little bit tired, but I also need a bit of motivation. I thought ‘2.39m is high but I have jumped that before’. When you put the bar higher than you ever jumped before you get adrenaline and think: ‘oh, I never jumped this before'. So I thought ‘I am going for 2.40m, I don’t care what happens. It’s only one jump and I am so tired.’”
Stan's now a happy man
Only three men have jumped higher than 2.40m outdoors so he is in elite company, and while he waited in doping control he received a call from his coach, Stanisław ‘Stanley’ Szczyrba, who had remained at home in Poland.
“This was my first competition ever without him,” Barshim, revealed with a smile. “He’s a little bit old now and so he takes it easy. Long flights are not good for him So we decided he is going to relax and watch the television. I told him to relax. I will go over there.
“I didn’t have to tell him the result. He knew it already. I was in doping control and he called me. The first thing he said was, ‘I am happy.’ Usually he is not happy, Even when I’ve jumped 2.35m he was not happy.”
Barshim smiles constantly. He admitted it was very unusual for him to be at a competition without Szczyrba. They have worked together for three years and have developed a close relationship. When Barshim is in Europe he often stays at his coach’s house.
Rather than accept the technical advice of other jumpers or coaches in the stadium, he formulated a different strategy to compensate.
“I imagined what he would want me to do,” he explained. “I know exactly how he is thinking and I try to imagine what he is thinking. I don’t want to take advice from somebody I don’t know. I know what my coach wants. I close my eyes while I am jumping and imagine he is here.
“When I missed two times at 2.39m, I imagined I am looking at my coach and I knew what he wanted: keep your shoulders back, move up, don’t go to the bar, that’s what I was thinking: ‘go up, go up, run better.'”
Despite the obvious travel fatigue - he endured a 17 hour journey from Qatar - he said he had difficulty sleeping while in Eugene, waking up at 11 pm every night and sleeping all day.
Jet lag jumping
“Actually, when I come to the US I am sleeping a lot,” he said with a laugh. “There’s a big time difference for me and I arrived the day before the meet. I have been sleeping all day and awake all night. I eat breakfast in the morning then sleep all day. I never eat dinner when I am in the United States; I eat lunch then, after lunch, boom, I sleep.
“I like to watch cartoons. I am watching cartoons all the time (laughing) in my room chilling, talking on Skype with my family and friends, and watching cartoons.”
After he returned to Doha with his London 2012 Olympic Games bronze medal Barshim was feted by the people of Qatar as well as royalty.
The homecoming began at the airport and continued for days. Going home with the Asian record would probably result in another national celebration but once he comes to terms with his achievement in Eugene he must return to business and he is unsure when he will return to Qatar.
Among the competitions he is expected to compete in are the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Birmingham, London and Lausanne. He will represent Qatar at the Arab Games as well as the Asian Championships and, in all likelihood, his younger brother Muammar will join him on the team for the latter two events..
“My brother has jumped 2.20m now,” Barshim said proudly. “He is competing with me at the Arab champs, the Gulf and the Asian championships. This month he hasn’t done much training because he is finishing school. Next week, he is finishing school and he will join me; that’s good because he never had the chance to train with me twice a week.
“I hope every competition is going to be like this, a strong competition. It was always pushing the limit. It can give you outstanding performance. You don’t even think about how you are going to do, you just do jump and suddenly we jumped really high today.”
The world record has been held by one of Barshim’s heroes, Javier Sotomayor, at 2.45m since 1993.
The 20th anniversary of the record comes on 27 July, which is the day after Barshim is scheduled to compete in London, but the possibility emerged in Eugene that there might be no birthday party after all.
Paul Gains for the IAAF