Having watched his Russian rival, Ivan Ukhov, dominate the London 2012 Olympic Games final on his territory in London last summer, British high jumper Robbie Grabarz is now eager to repay the favour at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow this coming August.
The 25 year-old 2012 European champion and Olympic bronze medallist is determined to seek revenge for the manner in which his illustrious Eastern European counterpart destroyed both the opposition and his own golden dream, ultimately providing the only disappointment in Grabarz’s fairy tale 2012 campaign.
Guided by Fayyaz Ahmed at their Birmingham base in England, Grabarz revealed his plans for redemption in his first global outdoor championship
“I’ll be in fantastic shape, ready to battle with Ukhov in his backyard, just like he did with me in mine last summer,” said Grabarz.
“Russia has five or six 2.30 jumpers to choose from and they thrive under the pressure – it’s nice to learn from watching videos of their jumps – but the fun of the High Jump is the constant battle with each other, feeling happy when you clear a height only to look up and see your competitor do the same.”
Grabarz, the 2012 IAAF Samsung Diamond League winner has a not-so-secret weapon in corner in his quest to beat the men from the Steppes, Sweden’s 2004 Olympic champion, Stefan Holm.
“I’ve been working with him for the last couple of years,” explained Grabraz about his relationship with the four-time IAAF World Indoor Championships winner. “It’s nice that he’s willing to help out and his input’s fantastic as he understands what I’m trying to achieve.”
‘Big Learning Curve’
Now entering only his second year as a world class athlete following his breakthrough in 2012, Grabarz is arguably one of the most-improved athletes of recent months: progressing from 50th on the 2011 world list to second by the end of last year.
He missed selection for the last IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea just a year before claiming his Olympic medal, which he shared with Qatar’s Moutaz Essa Barshim and Canada’s Derek Drouin to mean that five medals were awarded in an Olympic athletics event for only the third time.
London-born Grabarz credits his transformation to losing his financial assistance from the national governing body British Athletics from the start of 2012 and adopting a more professional approach to his training and lifestyle.
Just over a year ago, he improved his overall best by six centimetres with a 2.34m clearance indoors in Wuppertal, Germany to kick-start an impressive year, which also saw him finish sixth in the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey with a 2.31m leap in March.
He went on to claim the continental crown with the same height in Helsinki, Finland a month before the Olympics.
Grabarz – whose surname originates from his Polish grandfather – then equalled Steve Smith’s 20-year-old British record of 2.37m when finishing third in a superb competition at the Diamond League meeting in Lausanne.
“I now want the record all to myself. I want to really own it for as long as possible and 2.40m, it’s the pinnacle of high jump heights.”
To conclude a glittering season, he captured the Diamond Race trophy and the $40,000 first prize after wins in Rome and Birmingham, as well as four second place finishes across the series.
“I knew I’d put the work in over the winter and I had a new-found confidence. In competition, I kept catching the next wave so I really enjoyed it all year long and it was a big learning curve. When you’re in that flow, it’s really easy and that was a great pleasure. I hope my whole career can feel like that,” revealed Grabarz.
“Having 80,000 people (in the London Olympic stadium) supporting me was great. I knew I went in as a medal hope and in great shape. I got too excited, though and that’s why I didn’t get the silver but looking back, I’m really pleased.
“It was fantastic as previously, I’d not even been at the major champs, but I knew I belonged there and I really enjoyed what I was doing, that helped make my performance better.
“It was quite frustrating to share the medal but satisfying also. Ukhov was unbeatable that day, he owned it out there and he knew he was going to win.”
Moscow Dress Rehearsal
After holidaying for a few weeks in Australia after the Games, Grabarz commenced training in October and opened his 2013 campaign with second place at 2.29m behind Russia’s 2011 World Championships silver medallist Alexey Dmitrik at the British Athletics Glasgow International Match on 26 January.
“It was good, it was nice to be challenged in my first competition. I took a risk and passed a bar to try and win it because I was in second place on countback. I would have liked to have gone higher but I’m happy with it and there’s a lot more to come.
“I was quietly confident and it was the height I was expecting so I’m content with it. It was great fun and I enjoyed myself, it’s a good solid opener. It was a good atmosphere so it was really enjoyable,” added Grabarz, who was chosen as the British team captain for the event.
“The (captain’s) speech went well, though I was more nervous for that than the competition itself but it was a nice privilege.”
Next, Grabarz will contest the British Athletics European Trials and UK Championships in Sheffield on 10 February, followed by the British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham six days later in preparation for the forthcoming European Athletics Indoor Championships in Gothenburg at the start of March.
Having failed to qualify for the final of the last edition in Paris two years ago, he has taken a new approach to the countdown to the event, which - with three top Russians expected to in action - will act as a vital dress-rehearsal for Moscow five months down the line.
“Before, I was tired by the time I got to the championships so this year, I’m doing less competitions to be fresh when it matters,” revealed Grabarz. ”It’s tough to compete and travel lots so this time, I’m heading into the season feeling strong.”
“The aim’s to make the (European Athletics Indoor Championships) final with little effort and get a medal. I never set a height (as a goal) as so many things can go wrong in the high-jump.
“There will be a very strong Russian presence and they will be jumping high so the final probably won’t be too dissimilar to the Worlds.
“I always use the indoors as a warm-up for the outdoor season, testing a few things leading into the summer and they all know who I am now. I think Ukhov and Dmitrik will be there (at the World Championships) but I know I’ve put the hard work in and the pressure’s more from me than anything else.”
Naturally, just like the British athletes were at the Olympics, the Russian high jumpers will be super-motivated to doing well on home ground but the un-intimidated Grabarz has just over six months to work out how to dethrone them.
Nicola Bamford for the IAAF