Apart from a handful of friends and relatives, the then 18-year-old Mutaz Esha Barshim was literally unknown in a competition which featured the likes of Olympic Games and World Championships medalists Ivan Ukhov, Yaroslav Rybakov, Jesse Williams, Kyriakos Ioannou, Yaroslav Baba and Donald Thomas.
Teenager Mutaz leaped 2.23 and was unable to advance to the final, but the slightest taste of fighting against the mighty high jumpers he took from his first international entry, helped him build up the strong personality he now possesses and loaded experience to his young and promising mind, body and soul.
More than two years after that day and on the verge of his second appearance at Doha’s Samsung Diamond League Mutaz Essa Barshim, is neither unknown nor inexperienced. Ever since that international debut and under the continuous and tireless guidance of coach Stanislaw Szczyrba, the young Qatari became a World, Asian, Arab and GCC Champion at junior level; Asian Indoor and Outdoor senior Champion; won the Asian, Arab and World Military Games and the GCC and Arab Championships, while he also set an Asian Indoor record in 2.37.
Besides all these titles, Mutaz also competed twice at World Championships finals but although, especially in this years’ World Indoors in Istanbul, he was considered as a strong contender for a medal, he failed to fulfill the high expectations everybody had from him.
Mutaz and coach Stanislaw Szczyrba explain why:
Mutaz Barshim: “Everything went good in qualification. The second day during the warm up I felt my legs very heavy. I thought there must be something wrong and not a good day to jump. I guess it was just not my day. People were saying it was the pressure to blame, but I don’t think the problem was that. In the end every international competition gives me experience.”
Stanislaw Szczyrba: “He was ready, but jumping day after day is very tiring. No one really jumped well in Istanbul. I cannot understand why they arranged this kind of programme.
Despite still missing a major Championships medal, Mutaz is confident ahead of the challenges of the current season, especially the Olympic Games:
M.B.: “My target isn’t the qualification round, I have higher goals. For me getting into the final is normal. I don’t see any differences between other Championships and Olympic Games. In the final everyone is equal and is aiming for a medal. It is just a matter of experience and balance between mentality and technique. I am still young but I want a medal.”
Mutaz will start his outdoor Olympic campaign in Doha at the Samsung Diamond League, which always comes too early for top performances. Mutaz jumped a personal best, 2.31, and was ranked third in 2011. Now he hopes for a repeat:
M.B.: “Last year I was very satisfied jumping 2.31. Opening the season with a personal best was really awesome. For this season, I hope to finish in the top three as well. I will compete in some more international meetings before the Olympics and after that we have the West Asian Games in September.”
Is seems another demanding and tiring season expects Mutaz who, since last March, has competed in every single month apart from November! It makes sense to wonder if he, at some point, complained about fatigue:
M.B.: “Not really. Everyone was asking me how do I manage staying at this level, but for me it’s normal. I don’t have to stay 100% focused all the time, I just enjoy. Of course I am trying to keep up the level. I had lots of competitions to be honest, but I think it was good for me to compete in many events, to gain more experience in different times of the season. This year I have to be smarter in order to avoid injuries.”
Last May at a post Diamond League press conference in Doha, Mutaz said that a 2.35 jump would be his target for 2011 and he managed to accomplish that mission. If someone asks him the same question this year what will be his answer?
M.B.: “Last year I eagerly wanted to break the Arab record that stood for 10 years. I was dreaming about this. This year, is kind of difficult because there are many competitions and the Olympics. If I can equal the Asian record, 2.39 (Zhu Jianhua 10/6/1984), I would be happy.”
Stanislaw Szczyrba: Not just a coach!
Mutaz’s career is literally connected from its grassroots to Swedish (of Polish descent) coach Stanislaw Szczyrba, who once helped Icelander pole vaulter Vala Flosadottir snatch a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. He also trained Swede high jumper Linus Thörnblad who won World and Euro indoor medals.
Stanislaw Szczyrba gives us the story so far with Mutaz in headlines:
S.S.: “Before Mutaz I coached another high jumper, who was much better than him. Then the Qatari federation employed me to coach Mutaz, who was nobody at that time. He was like a stone! No one thought Mutaz would have been a good high jumper. I remember that during the first practice it was very difficult for him to jump 2m. I faced really hard times, but I loved him and he rapidly improved after the second practice session. Now he is a diamond!
“In the beginning it was not easy. You see in sports when you give wrong advices to athletes they are developing really bad attitude. Before me, Mutaz had some really bad practices and came always late. I talked to him many times. My purpose of working is always to produce results, not to have fun.”
“But these days are over. We have a really good relation now. Mutaz is a really hard worker, a natural talent, a unique person. One in a few millions! I think that in the future he will surpass what Vala Flosadottir did at the 2000 Olympic Games.”
Mutaz laconically describes his relationship with his coach as “Like father and son.”
It’s common for trainers to use tricks to motivate their athletes. Does this apply to Stansislaw Szczyrba:
S.S.: “No! I prefer talking to each other. He must know what he is doing, what his target is.”
And how much time and energy does Mutaz training taking out of his coach?
S.S.: “All my time goes into him. Everything turns around him but I am having a really good time.”
Mutaz is not the only Barshim that jumps in this world. His younger brother Moammar looks identically like him and tries the same technique. He even trains with Stanislaw’s son, Pawel. Does Mutaz give him any sort of advice or encouragement?
M.B.: “My brother is kind of like me; physically. He is not that good yet. In the beginning he was just doing it for fun, but now I see he is fast improving. We watch some videos together and discuss about high jump.”
And what does Stanislaw think about Barshim the youngest?
S.S.: “He can jump. I don’t think he can be compared with Mutaz at the moment. He has already cleared 2.16, which is a good record."
AT A GLANCE
- Favorite football team: “In Qatar, Al Rayyan, my club. Worldwide AC Milan and Manchester United.”
- Favorite place for holidays: “Depends on the season. I like traveling to Europe though.”
- Person he would like to meet: “The rapper Lil Wayne.”
- On a possible Doha candidacy for 2019 World Championships: “For sure I will support it.”
- On if he will take a special item with him in London: “No, I just want to be prepared. And bring our own “weapon” which I and my coach will discuss.”
- Women athletics in Qatar: “It’s time to rise. It would be good to welcome some medals in the future from the ladies.”
- His advantages: “My height, the… genes. I am a bit lighter than my opponents, but they might be stronger. My coach is also an asset.”
- His disadvantages: “I need to gain more experience and improve my technique”.
SDL Doha 2012 - Laurel International
Updated on May 23, 2013, 3:51pm