DOHA: Qatar’s recently minted World indoor high jump champion Mutaz Essa Barshim believes that Javier Sotomayor’s 2.45m world record, set nearly 21 years ago and one of the oldest on the books, could finally fall this year.
“It’s very possible,” Barshim said, speaking on an international media conference call earlier today from his home in Doha.
“I can’t say yes or no. But anything is possible.”
His isn’t the brash talk of an overly confident 22-year-old. It’s simply an observation by one of the finest jumpers in the world who happens to be competing during one of the most exceptional periods in his event’s history.
“I think the high jump is at the best level now so I think there can be a world record at any given time this season,” he explained. Looking at the short list of his contemporaries, his assessment seems to be on target.
Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko, the reigning World champion outdoors, has topped 2.41m and sits at No. 3 on the event’s all-time list. Ivan Ukhov of Russia, the reigning Olympic champion, scaled 2.42m indoors in February. Only Sotomayor has jumped higher indoors or out.
Since he made his breakthrough in 2010 with a 2.31m leap when still a junior, Barshim has been on a steady climb to eventually claim his spot among the event’s big three.
In 2011 he improved to 2.35m when taking the Asian title, scaled an Asian record 2.39m in Lausanne in the run-up campaign to the London Games the following year and improved again to 2.40m last season in Eugene. Only four men have ever jumped higher outdoors.
Along the way he’s taken Olympic bronze in 2012 and World championships silver in 2013 before his World indoor triumph last month.
“We had just two goals (for the indoor season),” he said. “To win the Asian indoors, and then of course to win the World indoors.”
That he did in style with a 2.38m clearance to polish off a perfect score card of seven successive first attempt clearances.
“We knew we could win the gold. It would just depend on how it went during the competition, the rhythm, how I was going to feel at the moment. I was really confident, and really concentrating.” It was an Asian indoor record, but Barshim believes he could have gone higher.
“I was in really good shape. 2.38 was really great, a new Asian (indoor) record. But I think I could have jumped higher if I wasn’t already the winner. I needed more pushing, more pressure. Then I was already happy so it was hard to focus.”
His homecoming as world indoor champion, beginning with a welcome reception at Doha airport, was one he’ll never forget.
“It was big, everyone was so happy, I really appreciated that,” he said. “It’s really nice to see how everyone is really happy for you and what you have done. You forget all the hard training moments and all of the sacrifices that you have made and realise, ‘I didn’t do this for nothing’.”
He’s certainly not predicting any records for his appearance at the Diamond League kick-off in Doha on 9 May, but admits he would be very pleased with a victory on home turf after finishing third in 2011 and second last year.
“(The Doha Diamond League) is always early in the season and I’m in really hard training, and I don’t interrupt my training,” he said. “Of course I always want to give my best. It’s my home town. My family and friends are there. You just want to do your best.”