‘The people of Qatar are the champions’
High jumper Mutaz credits the Qatari fans for helping him become world champion again.
Mutaz Essa Barshim emerged the world high jump champion on Friday night. But for the athlete, the real champions were the Qatari people who filled every available seat at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha to watch him in action.
“They turned up in large numbers. The support I got, the cheers from my people at home — I just forgot about the competition and my injury last year – I had to win the gold medal for them. It was their support that saw me through. They are the real champions,” said the elated Mutaz.
A little after Mutaz’ triumph, HH The Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met him to offer his congratulations. “He was very excited and happy when I met him. He said, ‘you did everything I wanted and even more’.”
It was certainly an inspiring performance from the 28-year-old who believed that his gold medal effort could motivate the entire nation.
“I believe this will spark off something for the nation itself. I have seen the joy in people’s eyes. They couldn’t believe that someone can be a world champion, now they do.
“It will motivate youngsters to take up not only high jump but other sports as well. And you saw the crowds at the stadium today. They knew I was jumping and just turned up. The atmosphere was fabulous. It goes to show that you need to come to the stadium to watch athletics. You cannot watch it on television. They’ve had a great experience this time. I’m sure they will come again.”
The ankle injury in July 2018 was a big blow to Mutaz but despite that setback, he has found his way back into the sport in emphatic fashion. He recalled his road to recovery.
“At about the same time last year, I was taking my first step after I got off my crutches. Of course there were a lot of questions that went through my mind — will I jump again? Will I be at the level I used to be? How quickly will I recover? Given what I went through in the last year and where I have reached today, I am really happy,” said the high jumper.
It was not easy for Barshim to be out in the middle on Friday night. His rivals were breathing down his neck and his home fans wanted him to win. Mutaz said he coped with the situation by using the pressure to his advantage.
“Of course there was a lot of pressure. But you use it in a positive manner. When you do that, it gives you that extra push to do well. And that’s what helped me in some tough situations today.”
In his moment of glory Mutaz remembered Aspire Academy, where he polished his skills. “They played a great role in my career by giving me so many opportunities,” he said.
Now that he has achieved his goals this year, he said his next target was the Olympics but before that, other things needed attention.
“I need to take a vacation, I need to eat, I need to get fat,” he said with a smile on his face.
In a more serious tone, the high jumper said he needed to consult with his doctor as well.
“I first have to check with my doctor on the extent of recovery and if there are more problems with my ankle. Then I will chat with my coach. Tokyo is a big target. I need to speak to him about how we are going to approach it,” said the high jumper.
And even as the entire nation basks in the glory of his achievement, Mutaz explained the reason as to why he took up high jump. “I love high jump. I do it when I am happy, I do it when I am sad and I do it when I am angry. This is how I express myself.”