|High Jump||2.36||Beijing (National Stadium)||18 MAY 2016|
|High Jump||2.28||Doha (Aspire Dome)||19 FEB 2016|
|2016||2.36||Beijing (National Stadium)||18 MAY|
|2008||2.20||Beijing (National Stadium)||17 AUG|
|2016||2.28||Doha (Aspire Dome)||19 FEB|
|2012||2.26||Istanbul (Ataköy Arena)||10 MAR|
|The XXXI Olympic Games||7||2.29||Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico)||16 AUG 2016|
|15th IAAF World Championships||8q2||2.29||Beijing (National Stadium)||28 AUG 2015|
|14th IAAF World Championships||11q2||2.22||Moskva (Luzhniki)||13 AUG 2013|
|The XXX Olympic Games||13q1||2.16||London (Olympic Stadium)||05 AUG 2012|
|IAAF World Indoor Championships 2012||12q1||2.26||Istanbul (Ataköy Arena)||10 MAR 2012|
|13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||14q1||2.21||Daegu (DS)||30 AUG 2011|
|12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||15q2||2.15||Berlin (Olympiastadion)||19 AUG 2009|
|The XXIX Olympic Games||14q1||2.20||Beijing (National Stadium)||17 AUG 2008|
Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.
Compiled 13 July 2016
Majd Eddin GHAZAL, Syria (High Jump)
Born: 21 April 1987, Damascus
Club: National Army
Coach: Imad Sarraj
At the beginning of the 2016 Olympic season, an athlete ‘turned up from nowhere’ dumbfounded the world of men’s high jump with an incredible clearance over 2.36m. Half a year earlier, when he had won the World Military Games with a perfect 2.31m in Mungyeong, South Korea on 5 October 2015, the overwhelming majority of athletics specialists were sure that it was a pure accident. But definitely, not all of them. Little more than one month before that event, Majd Eddin Ghazal had cleared 2.29m, national Syrian record, in his first attempt at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, but hadn’t managed to reach the final because of only one unsuccessful jump at the height of 2.26m.
“Pay attention to this Syrian nugget,” whispered one coach to his colleague, watching the Beijing men’s high jump qualification from the athletes’ stands. “Obviously, he has potential at least for 2.40m. Maybe, he isn’t as gifted as Barshim, but, for sure, he isn’t less talented than Bondarenko. I’m really envying coaches that are so lucky to facet such a rough diamond.” Maybe, we all are lucky having Majd Eddin in world athletics, as his life might have turned out quite differently…
Majd Eddin came to the high jump field at the age of 16. Certainly, like every second Syrian boy, he was first involved in football. Then he successfully played basketball and was credited by coaches as a future star. He was taller, faster and much more harmoniously developed than his peers were, but one day his father took young Ghazal from the basketball field and brought him to the athletics stadium.
“I started with long distances. Very soon, I switched over to sprints and horizontal jumps. But I was always looking at the high jump field with very special admiration and envy. I liked what high jumpers did and I felt like I was going over the bar with them,” Majd Eddin remembers. “Firm conviction that I’ll manage to do the same came like an insight. Since I made my first high jump, I got the deep belief that it’s mine. I was happy that I finally found the path I could follow comfortably in athletics.”
Three years later, Ghazal managed to jump over 2m, improving his personal best from a modest 1.90m to impressive 2.09m (national junior record as well) at the Pan Arab Junior Championships, where he got the bronze medal. That was the first international event in his career, which raised his expectations about a great future in the field.
Then Majd Eddin faced an 8-year period of changing coaches, but every one of them made a contribution to his formation as a world-class high jumper.
In 2007, Ghazal started to work with Yuriy Voloshyn, a Russian combined events specialist, who came to Syria by contract. “He changed everything in my training. As it turned out, I knew nothing at all about athletics, and high jump particularly, before the beginning of our teamwork. I was an obedient and gratifying pupil. I rose physically in full view of all our coaches very fast. As a result I broke the 13-year-old national record at the first outdoor event of the season, cleared 2.17m and took third place at the Arab Championships in Amman on 21 May.”
From 2008 until 2010, Ghazal was coached by Belarussian (Ukrainian-born) specialist Aleksandr Kotovich, high jump European silver medallist in 1985. It was a period of hard technical and power work, during which Majd Eddin spent 20-25 days a month in Belarus. He improved the Syrian national indoor record to 2.21m, finished second at the Asian Indoor Championships in Doha and then raised the outdoor national record to 2.20m when he managed to win the bronze medal at the Belarussian Nationals on 8 July 2008.
“That was a very memorable year for me. That was the year of my first Olympics,” Ghazal recalls. “Everything around me looked amazing and grandiose, but I was scared for the first time in my life. I didn’t have the qualifying Olympic standard, because I came to Beijing allowed by the IOC as part of “one man plus one woman from each country” rule. I was afraid to be too ordinary against the background of excellent jumpers. I was in panic at every training and cried to my coach that I’ll able to do nothing in the field. Kotovich just smiled and tried to keep me calm. Only after I cleared 2.25m during one of my practices, I settled down. As a result, I went over my 2.20m PB in the Beijing qualification. Certainly, I was upset but I got my first really helpful and memorable experience.”
After such stress, Ghazal suffered a back injury and all of 2009 was devoted to treatment. Despite that fact, Majd Eddin tried to compete at all major events; he finished 28th in the Berlin World Championships qualification with 2.15m, cleared 2.22 (NR) for silver at the Asian Indoor Games in Hanoi on 1 November and 2.10m at the Asian Championships in Guangzhou, on 13 November, for 8th place.
In 2010, Ghazal improved the outdoor national record to 2.22m, but his coach had to move to Kuwait and Majd joined the group of Turkmen Vladimir Brigadnyy.
“Even if he wasn’t a high jump specialist, we had really good cooperation,” Ghazal says. “I improved a lot physically, working on weights and special jumping exercises. I aimed to fulfil the London Olympics qualifying standard in 2011 and I did it at the Asian Championships in Kobe, when I cleared 2.28m NR and took 2nd place. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to confirm my shape at the Daegu World Championships, (23rd place in qualification with 2.21m), but even that time I was focused to prepare for next year Olympics.”
Ghazal was in really great shape, confirmed by strong results, during the 2012 indoor season. He improved the national indoor record two times and brought it up to 2.26m at the World Indoors in Istanbul. At the beginning of the summer season, he cleared a perfect 2.26m at the Asian GP in Kanchanaburi, but suffered an ankle injury and had to come back to Syria for treatment.
After a long period of recovery, Majd Eddin started his training at the Damascus stadium.
“It was time of civil war in our country. The situation in Damascus was terrible,” Majd Eddin recollected tearfully. “Military hardware, gunfire, explosions, cries and shouts of people rang out from everywhere. My native city was in fire and horror. In spite of that, I made a rush every day trying to get to the stadium and continue my preparation for the London Games. But one day, the stadium was bombed during my practice. A shell exploded not far from the high jump landing area. I was shocked and really scared. For more than one month I didn’t go out from my home. There could be no thoughts of training and Olympics, but our government decided we should go to London. Nobody expected any strong results from us. It was rather a political move to show the world that Syria is still alive. Our Olympic team was accompanied to the Damascus airport escorted by strong police and hardware protection...
“London changed the colours cardinally. I was proud to bear Syria’s flag at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Every cell of my body felt the unbelievable atmosphere of the biggest sport festival… just until the celebratory gun salute started. It’s difficult to describe my feelings. They were too mixed. I understood that I’m in a safe country and that is just a beautiful part of this grand sport occasion, but pictures of war in the Damascus streets cropped out like frames from a horror film. I tried to switch my thoughts to positive, but my brain refused to obey.
Going into the London Olympic qualification, Ghazal wasn’t sure he would manage to clear even 2.10m. Finally, he went over 2.16m in the second attempt and finished his second Games ingloriously.
In 2013, Ghazal was forced to change coach for the umpteenth time. He started teamwork with Russian Vyacheslav Voronin only in April and it was too late for really successful pre-season preparation. Ghazal managed to achieve his best international result at the major event, clearing 2.22m at the Moscow World Championships, but it wasn’t enough to reach the final.
The following year, Majd Eddin moved to the group of Aleksandr Purt, the former coach of Vyacheslav Voronin. Ghazal spent all the time in Russia until the middle of July, working a lot on technical improvement. “We changed my jump technique and approach significantly,” Ghazal assures. “I needed a little more time to put together all the details into the integral jump, but my federation recalled me back to Syria because of financial difficulties. I continued to train, self-coaching, but I definitely needed some professional help from outside. That is why I joined Imad Sarraj’s group in 2015. He is not a high jump specialist, but he’s one of the best national coaches in Syrian athletics.”
In 2015, Ghazal didn’t want to rush things, aiming to achieve the standard for the 2016 Rio Games and to start balanced preparation for his third Olympics. “I know better than anybody else that it takes a bit of time to get used to work with a new coach, but I reached an understanding with Imad Sarraj very soon. My technique was good enough, thanks to Russian coaches, and I needed only to improve my physical conditions. We went gradually, doing exercises with low risk of injury and increasing loadings carefully. I didn’t expect something special from that season but unexpectedly I cleared 2.29m, new NR, at the Thailand Grand Prix in Pathumthani on 25 June and I understood I can do more!”
After clearing the same 2.29m at the Beijing World Championships, just missing the final, Ghazal focused on preparation for the World Military Games. On 5 October, he won that competition in Mungyeong, South Korea and raised the national Syrian record to 2.31m.
The 2016 Asian Indoor Championships, which were hosted by Doha in mid-February, became the crucial point for Majd Eddin. “That is not because I set a new national indoor record of 2.28m and not because I took second place behind Mutaz Barshim. It is because I did it with no special preparation for these competitions, performing in Doha under big loading. I understood there that I can jump much higher if I feel a bit fresher,” Ghazal explained.
After great pre-season preparation in Latakia, Syria, the payoff came in due time. Ghazal opened his 2016 summer season with 2.28m and 4th place at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting on 14 May, but four days later surprised the world with a great 2.36m clearance in Beijing, topping the 2016 world list at that time.
“I know that many people were puzzled, asking ‘who is this Syrian guy'? Where did he jump out from?’ But I believe that was just the start of my international career; I believe my coach and his training methods. I believe I can fly!” Ghazal smiles.
“Certainly, I need more international events to improve my shape before Rio, but almost all embassies in Damascus are closed. I wanted to perform in Diamond League events in Marrakech and Rome, but I was refused when applying for visas. Now I must go to Kuwait to get the visas. It isn’t a short and easy way, as it takes a couple of days and those are days off my training, which I have to skip. I made several attempts during winter and spring, but all embassies consider me as a potential immigrant. Why? Only because I’m Syrian? It hurts me to hear it! I like my country and I’m not going to move anywhere else. My family, my friends, my coach are here. I want to be close to them, but I really need more possibilities to compete with my rivals before major competitions. I know I can jump over 2.40m. I’m not scared by such a height, but I definitely also need better facilities for practices sometimes. We have only an old landing area, several hurdles and one weight at the Damascus stadium. For sure, that is not enough to achieve a new level of results, but I’m staying optimistic. Much more important is to believe in yourself and to have people around who believe in you.”
Finally, Ghazal was granted a Schengen visa in the middle of June and made his first European season appearance in Barcelona on 30 June, where he won the Catalan championships with 2.33m.
Outdoor 2.36 (2016) NR
Indoor 2.28 (2016) NR
High Jump (outdoors/indoors): 2006: 2.09 NJR/-; 2007: 2.17 NR/2.10 NJR; 2008: 2.20/2.21 NR; 2009: 2.16/2.22 NR; 2010: 2.22 NR/-; 2011: 2.28 NR/-; 2012: 2.26/2.26 NR; 2013: 2.23/-; 2014: 2.26/2.20; 2015: 2.31 NR/-; 2016: 2.36 NR/2.28 NR
2006 3rd Pan Arab Junior Championships, Cairo 2.09
2007 3rd Arab Championships, Amman 2.17
2007 14th Asian Championships, Amman 2.10
2007 3rd Pan Arabian Games, Cairo 2.14
2008 2nd Asian Indoor Championships, Doha 2.21
2008 24thq Olympic Games, Beijing 2.20
2009 9th Mediterranean Games, Pescara 2.15
2009 28thq World Championships, Berlin 2.15
2009 2nd Arab Championships, Damascus 2.16
2009 2nd Asian Indoor Games, Hanoi 2.22
2009 8th Asian Championships, Guangzhou 2.10
2010 13thq Asian Games, Guangzhou 2.10
2011 2nd Asian Championships, Kobe 2.28
2011 8th World Military Games, Rio de Janeiro 2.17
2011 23rdq World Championships, Daegu 2.21
2011 2nd Pan Arab Championships, Al Ain 2.22
2012 3rd Asian Indoor Championships, Hangzhou 2.24
2012 12thq World Indoor Championships, Istanbul 2.26
2012 28thq Olympic Games, London 2.16
2013 8th Mediterranean Games, Mersin 2.18
2013 5th Asian Championships, Pune 2.21
2013 21stq World Championships, Moscow 2.22
2014 2nd Asian Indoor Championships, Hangzhou 2.20
2014 6th Asian Games, Incheon 2.20
2015 8th Asian Championships, Wuhan 2.10
2015 15thq World Championships, Beijing 2.29
2015 1st World Military Games, Mungyeong 2.31
2016 2nd Asian Indoor Championships, Doha 2.28
Prepared by Liudmyla Iakusheva for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2016.