Being called The Italian Stallion is an over-used English language nickname for any talented high profile sportsman representing the Azzurri but Gianmarco Tamberi would certainly be another deserving recipient of the epithet, especially considering his galloping gait approaching the high jump bar, if he were to strike gold in Portland on Saturday.
Tamberi, now 23, has arrived in the Oregon city as the slight favourite for his specialist event at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 after notching up four straight high-quality wins which including a 2016 world-list leading 2.38m national record in the Czech town of Hustopece last month.
Nevertheless, at the traditional pre-championship press conference on Thursday, there was still a bit of boyish wonder about his situation.
“For me, it’s the first time to be top of the list and when I see my name at the top it’s like ‘Oh really’ but when I see that the second man is Mutaz (Barshim, the defending world indoor champion, from Qatar) I say to myself ‘OK, it will be hard to be world champion.
“Everything has happened really fast this indoor season, but the positive flow continues to go. I’m here to really enjoy this competition because Portland is one of the biggest cities in the USA. It’s my first time at a world indoor championships, but I want to continue this positive flow.”
Tamberi will be accompanied in Portland by his friend but domestic rival Marco Fassinotti, who has jumped 2.35m this winter, opening up the possibility that there could be two Italians on the podium in Pioneer Square, after not having an Italian men’s high jump medallist at these championships ever before.
“Now Italian high jumping is going really good. Nobody wants to be second. In training, everybody is working at 200 per cent, both of us want to push the bar a bit higher than the other and it’s really good for us and it’s a big stimulation.”
Prior to this winter, one of Tamberi’s main claims to fame on the international circuit was his extrovert appearance at meetings, which included having half a beard, the other side if his face being clean shaven.
However, he surprised the pundits present in Portland by sporting what is usually described as designer stubble.
“Now I think my beard looks OK,” he joked. “It (the half-beard look) was born in 2011, I didn it for a joke one time in a competition. I thought to myself ‘I want to do something fun’ so I shaved half my beard. I was young, my beard was short and nobody could see, but it has become a big problem. However, I like to do it (shave the beard), it’s like a good luck symbol” explained Tamberi, not revealing whether he would be scything through his stubble again before Saturday.
Tamberi also gave a vote of confidence to the innovation at these championships of the event being a straight final, with 12 men taking part.
“I like the fact that the competition will be a direct final, like a one day meeting. I think it will help the final results. If there are qualifying rounds, you always have to shed some energy. I’ve already seen the track, and this is really good too.
“I think this competition will see some really high performances. About Mutaz, well everybody knows who he is, he is the most naturally talented jumper I think there has ever been. I was expecting him to break the world record two years ago and maybe he can still do it.
“You can win a world title with less than 2.40m, so I will try to jump 2.40m then maybe it will be easier for me to win,” he added, with a big smile on his face.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF