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Getting back to competition important, says Barshim as he targets Tokyo

Qatar’s high jump icon Mutaz Barshim has seen ups and downs. One moment he was jumping to beat the world record, and the next suffering a career-threatening injury. But he has since successfully returned to competition and even become the first high jumper in history to retain his world title, when he did so at home in Khalifa International Stadium last year.

Then, what was supposed to be an Olympic year, turned into a pandemic year, and Barshim like most other athletes has been focused on training harder for the Olympics next year.

The Red Bull athlete talks about his injury, the pandemic, the Olympics and more.

Excerpts:

After the coronavirus pandemic threw the tournament schedule into disarray, what are your plans for the 2021 season?

I have started with a return to my usual routine and daily training in preparation for the championships that will pave the way to the Tokyo Olympics. I will stay focused on that till then. 

Does your exceptional achievement at the 2019 World Athletics Championship, as the first athlete in history to retain the High Jump title put some sort of pressure on your future undertakings, especially with regards to the Olympic year ahead?

I believe that feeling pressure is natural for a professional athlete. I even deem it essential for me in all the competitions I participate in. Nonetheless, I have to adapt to pressure, and prevent it from taking a toll on me, so as to channel it into positive results. 

Since Covid-19 has brought all competitions to a halt, do you think you have more time to prepare for the next season, or is it just an additional load in terms of training? 

Not competing in any championship for a whole season is undoubtedly a negative thing, but I will try to make the most out of it by training and exercising. 

You contributed a lot to raising awareness on the importance of staying home to limit the spread of Covid-19. Did the quarantine have negative effects on athletes?

The pandemic took a toll on the world as a whole, and athletes are no exception to that. However, athletes have the duty to give back to society, by leaving a positive impact. Sometimes we just have to make the right decision, and comply with the rules, even if it goes against our interests as athletes. The public health of the community takes precedence in such cases. Of course, staying home will do  athletes no good, but there is a positive side to it, as it sends the message that preserving public health and safety is given utmost importance at both individual and community levels.

Will you limit your activities to the Olympic Games, or will you also compete in the World Athletics Indoor Championships, the Diamond League, and other such competitions?

So far, we’re still carrying on with the routine training, which is the most important thing for us currently. We are yet to set a schedule for the 2021 season. That will be decided with the coach and the management team, and will include a review of all the competitions.

After the Covid-19 crisis, athletes now have the added pressure of preparing for the Olympics. What are your thoughts on Tokyo Games, the challenges it poses for you after London 2012 and Rio 2016?

I am currently focused on competing in Tokyo. Tokyo 2021 is a great challenge to me personally after London 2012 and Rio 2016. Yet, I do think of it as any other milestone in my career, and I shall do my best. But must keep in mind that competing for gold may be tough, but it is not impossible.



You work very hard with your coach Stanislaw Szczyrba. What kind of a relation do you have with him? 

I definitely have a strong bond with coach Stanislaw Szczyrba, and it is not just a coach-athlete relationship. It goes beyond track and field, and is not limited to training. We are friends, we discuss all matters of life. This has facilitated communication between us, and we now understand each other, which helps us succeed.



Do you believe it is time to break Cuban Javier Sotomayor’s 2.45m record?

When it comes to the High Jump record, I think no time is a good time to consider breaking it. I think I need to be focused on my training, and my aim is to set this figure as a target during my training.



What is more important for you right now? Focusing on the Olympics, or gradually returning to competition through the World Indoor Championship and the Diamond League?

What’s important to me right now is to go back to competing in tournaments, in order to be physically fit and prepared, as would be the case for any athlete in my position.



What have you learned from the serious injury you suffered? How did you manage to turn suffering into a sweeping success?

Injury has taught me that nothing is impossible when there is will and hard work. I’ve got my friends and family’s support to thank for helping me triumph over injury, as well as my patient and devoted team and coach who have facilitated my strong comeback. But first and foremost, I thank God for everything, as success is actually a gift from above.

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