Mutaz crowns comeback with Qatar’s first gold
The 28-year-old becomes the first male high jumper to defend his title with world-leading effort of 2.37M.
As his Italian rival Gianmarco Tamberi knelt in front of him to pay his respects, Mutaz Essa Barshim quietly hugged him before raising his arms to acknowledge the crowd. The king of high jump had returned to the top of the world, and the packed crowd at the Khalifa International Stadium stood as one to salute their hero.
In a perfect first wedding anniversary gift to his wife Alexandra, Mutaz cleared his season’s best and a world-leading height of 2.37M to romp home to gold, Qatar’s first at the 17thWorld Championships in athletics, on Friday.
He became the first male high jumper to defend his world title successfully, making a remarkable comeback this season after being out for more than a year due to an ankle injury.
While Mutaz sailed over the winning height on his first attempt, Authorised Neutral Athletes’ Mikhail Akimenko and Ilya Ivanyuk both jumped personal best marks of 2.35M to win silver and bronze respectively on a countback.
Before Mutaz, world record holder Javier Sotomayor was the only high jumper to win two world titles but even his gold medals did not come back to back. The Cuban topped in 1993 (Stuttgart) and 1997 (Athens).
“Really, I’m the first man to do that? Honestly, I didn’t know,” said Mutaz, before shouting “We’ve made history…”
Mutaz could not have picked a better place to create history than the iconic Khalifa Stadium, in front of family and friends. He said it was a fitting reply to people who had written him off.
“I really wanted to win at home. But after being away from competition for such a long time, people said this wasn’t my year, and I shouldn’t jump in Doha. But I knew this was my time. I’ve proved my detractors wrong. It’s the most amazing feeling of all,” he told Inside Qatar.
Mutaz confidently cleared 2.24M, 2.27M and 2.30M on his first attempts, flapping his hands like a falcon’s wings in celebration. But there were hints of trouble at 2.33M, which he cleared only on his third attempt.
From then on, it was the champion’s show all the way. He soared over 2.35M and 2.37M with several centimetres to spare, and it left the competition far behind.
Mutaz’s father Essa Mohammed Barshim was the first to rush to the field to embrace him. Then the 28-year-old champion went up the stands and gave a tight hug to his coach Stanisław Szczyrba.
Qatar Olympic Committee President HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani and Qatar Athletics Federation chief Dr Thani Abdulrahman Al Kuwari were also at hand to congratulate the winner.
Mutaz’s world had come crashing down in July 2018 after he suffered an injury, going for a world record. A year after being chosen as the IAAF’s World Athlete of the Year, he had started the new season with a bang, winning all six events he competed in. The injury then necessitated surgery and almost a year of inactivity later, he came back to jump in just three events before Doha.
But now, none of that matters. For on Friday, the gods of track and field had chosen to wear a Qatari jersey.