Packed Khalifa International Stadium? Check. Electric atmosphere? Check. Epic competition? Check. Gold for Qatar? Check.
Mutaz Essa Barshim defended his high jump world title in one of the most spectacular comebacks that the world of sport has ever seen with the 28-year-old brushing aside a difficult ankle injury from last year, lots of doubts, lack of substantial competition time and even two missed jumps on the D-Day.
His presence at the Khalifa International Stadium ensured that every seat in the spectacular air conditioned stadium was filled, and they responded to his every move.
The all-time number two went through the first four heights with lots of floodlights between his body and the bar, which took him to 2.30m. A scare, however, was just around the corner as the bar made its presence felt brushing the 1.88m tall athlete at 2.33 twice.
However, with coach Stanislaw “Stanley” Szczyrba gesturing to his ward to keep calm in the face of the pressure from ecstatic fans and the occasion, Barshim collected himself, and then not only cleared 2.33m, but also the next two heights without a hitch taking him to a world leading 2.37m.
That put neutral athletes Mikhail Akimenko and Ilya Ivanyuk under pressure and, as they came up short, Barshim rose from his seat to a rapturous applause as he confirmed his gold, Qatar’s first in this year’s IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
One of the first to congratulate him were Qatar Olympic Committee president HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani and Qatar Athletics Federation president Dr Thani Abdulrahman al-Kuwari, who were trackside to encourage their athlete on one of the biggest stages of them all.
Tuesday had seen compatriot Abderrahman Samba, also making a comeback from a hamstring injury, win the first medal for the hosts – a bronze in the men’s 400m hurdles.
The gold marks a spectacular comeback for a once-in-a-generation athlete who, in his own words, went from “trying to jump a world record (in Hungary last year), and a few hours later I couldn’t even walk” because he had twisted his ankle while launching himself to go past the 2.46m mark in July 2018.
He even called the injury a “nightmare” in a promotional video on his Instagram account.
And the reaction was only understandable given that he was following up a spectacular 2017, in which he went unbeaten and won the 2017 Athlete of the Year award, with a scintillating 2018, having won all the six outdoor events he participated in.
Earlier this year in April, the entire country got their hopes high up ahead of the Asian Athletics Championships, which were the test event for the ongoing Worlds, when it was learnt that Barshim was back on track after a lengthy recovery.
However, a few days before the Asian meet, he pulled out.
"I am so not there yet... I have just come back from an injury, and I don’t want to do something that will cost me the World Championships later. So I want to make sure that I am a 100 percent fit. I talked to my team, my agent, my doctor, my coach. They feel me, of course, but speaking out of experience they said it is better not to do it and risk the World Championships at home," he had said then.
The decision turned out to be bang on, as Barshim, who is the only high jumper in history to win the IAAF Athlete of the Year award, gave the full house at the state-of-the-art Khalifa International Stadium, including the Cuban World record holder Javier Sotomayor, a fantastic show culminating in the biggest prize of the Championships.
The world record of 2.45m may still stand tall, but Sotomayor’s response to Gulf Times was: “For now.”
As one of the Qatar fans, who came up to coach Szczyrba, after the win said, “I want to thank you for giving all these fans one of the most happy moments of their lives.”
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