Mutaz Barshim on rivals and chasing the world high-jump record
THE RED BULLETIN: You have the highest personal best of any athlete competing in the high jump today: 2.43m. Who’s your fiercest challenger for Olympic gold?
MUTAZ BARSHIM: There are five high jumpers in the Olympics line-up [including myself] who have exceeded 2.40m, so we are probably the hot favourites. But the high jump is a sport where you’re very focused on yourself. If I can prevail over myself, then I can beat all the others, too.
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Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi is one of your longstanding rivals. Could he win gold in Rio?
Gianmarco is a friend of mine – we’ve known each other for years. I really like his jumping style, and I think he could go all the way in Rio. At the Olympic Games, it’s athlete against athlete, and once you’ve made it to the final, anything is possible. The only thing that really matters is what happens on the day, and Gianmarco is one of those who could win a medal.
Can rival high jumpers such as you and Tamberi learn from each other?
No, because I have my style and Gianmarco has his. I wouldn’t learn anything by watching him; it’d only throw me off my stride. We can only work on ourselves.
high jump medals 1896-2012
You grew up in a family that was sports-mad, and your younger brother, Muamer, is also a high jumper. Has sibling rivalry helped your career?
I’m sure it has been a decisive factor. My parents have always supported us in our sporting careers as best they could. And naturally each of us always wanted to be the best in the family – though obviously no one is better than me. [Laughs.]
Might Muamer be better than you in the future?
Maybe, yes. But that isn’t what’s important. Sport isn’t really about who is the best; sport belongs to no man. No sportsperson is at the top for ever. Yes, rivalry is important, but you’re always your own greatest rival.
So you don’t view Cuba’s [now retired] Javier Sotomayor, who has held the world record since 1993, as your biggest rival, even indirectly?
No, I don’t think of Sotomayor as a rival. He’s a legend. When I was small, he was my great idol. It was seeing him that sparked my love of the high jump. Of course all of us are always eyeing his record of 2.45m, but he’s more of an idol than a rival.
The Rio 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Aug 5-21