Mutaz Essa Barshim: "I dream of winning the gold medal in the high jump at the Tokyo Olympics"
The Qatari athlete will be presented with the AS Arabia sports award next month. Last month, he was crowned world champion in front of a home crowd in Doha.
As vintage years go, 2019 has been one of the best so far for Mutaz Essa Barshim. The Qatari high jumper was crowned world champion in front of a home crowd at the IAAF World Championships in Doha at the start of October, becoming the first athlete to successfully defend the title. Barshim, the Asian record holder in his event, will receive the AS Arabia Sports Award at the awards gala in Madrid next week. He took time out to talk to AS about the past 12 months and the great season he'd had.
First of all... how do you feel to receive the 2019 AS Arabia award?
I feel a great deal of happiness to have been chosen for the award, especially as it is awarded by Diario AS, which is known all over the world and for its coverage of all sports and sportsmen and women. I will be attending the gala to collect the trophy on 3 December. It's an honour to be presented with this accolade and it is confirmation that all of our efforts - by my team and by myself, were not in vain.
Gold in Doha
Were you surprised by the season you've enjoyed, and defending your world crown?
No I didn't expect it, especially as it came following a difficult moment in my career. I suffered an injury which put my participation at the World Championships in doubt. To be honest, I wasn't 100% prepared for the event and only decided to take part a couple of weeks beforehand. We were worried that I might aggravate my injury but in the end it all worked out as we had hoped and I was able to win the gold medal in my country and in front of my people, which was the driving force for me to try and win a medal.
Tell us a little more about your injury... how did you get through the pain of suffering a fractured ankle then bounce back to become world champion?
It was a difficult time, especially as I spent almost a year recovering, and I was afraid that I might not ever be able to return to my level. But I was patient and remained optimistic throughout 2019; that, together with a lot of strength, helped to get me back on the podium once again.
Barshim's dream to triumph at 2020 Tokyo
Following the achievements of this year... what goals have you set for 2020?
A lot of important events will be coming up next season, so I will have a lot of challenges to overcome along the way. That's something I enjoy and it motivates me because I am used to dealing with pressure in the major competitions. I'll be taking part in a few events but the biggest one will be the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where I would love to win a gold medal after picking up the bronze and silver (in the last two Games in London and Rio). The other challenge I've set myself is to beat the world record (2.45 metres, held by Javier Sotomayor, who was also recognised by AS) after jumping 2.37 at the World Championships in Doha.
Do you feel under pressure from the expectations of you fans to win gold in Tokyo?
Pressure is something which all sportsmen and women have to live with when you are trying to succeed on a world level, and so it's something that I have to get used to so that I can handle that kind of tension. It's something I have managed to do better recently. And the pressure to win a medal will never be greater than what I felt when I has suffered an injury which could have ended my career.
What role has the Aspire Academy in Qatar had on your career?
I consider the Aspire Academy to be my second home. And since I started my career there, I have felt that all of the instructors there really want to improve all of the athletes and give them the skills they need. The atmosphere is all geared towards sport, and that helps any athlete who wants to triumph, and that is what set me on the path to the successes I have enjoyed.
What advice would you give young sportsmen and women who are just starting out?
I would encourage them to make as much effort as they can and that a lot of sacrifice is required to be among the best, and also that they must make the most of the positive circumstances they will encounter along the way to reach their goal. That is what I was doing at Aspire, and all of the athletes who are working at the academy will find that too.
Barshim: humility and dedication
How does it feel to be a sports superstar?
To be honest with you, I don't think about that. For me, as a sportsman, I am not looking for popularity, only to continue reaching my goals and enjoying success with my team. I hope that my coaches and followers have faith in me and it makes me feel happy when they do. I always try to remain humble and try to improve aspects of my technique and career.
And finally, do you have any words for AS readers?
I would like to thank Diario AS for this interview and for choosing me as the best Arab sportsperson of 2019. I would also like to dedicate to all of the readers, my hopes and ambition to record the highest jump in history (2.45 metres).