If you looked at the poster before last night’s Atlone Grand Prix you would have noticed that three international world class stars were on the front, all of whom could draw a crowd in their own right and yet by the end of the night it was clear to see that there had only been one true headliner.
While Asafa Powell cannot be blamed for unfortunately getting injured in the warm up and Carmelita Jeter ran well considering she is still getting back into the stride of international competition, Mutaz Essa Barshim, did what he always seems to do, excelled.
Rising to the crowds support, the Qatari star jumped with ease as he improved his season’s performances yet further by securing a world leading indoor mark of 2.41m that now places him just two centimetres and two places away from the indoor world record and despite three failed attempts at the WR, there is no doubt that it was another breakthrough night for the 23 year-old.
Such was the brilliance of his latest clearance, as he floated over the bar, making it with at least a book space to spare, many speculated that at that moment had it been measured to it’s full entirety then Barshim would now hold at least the indoor world record.
Of course that is not how the event or the sport works and so Javier Sotomayor’s record remained safe, even if he did come mighty close once more in the first of his actual attempts at a 2.44m world record.
Speaking after the event about his new Asian record Barshim said: “Yeah I’m happy, every progress is important, I’m very happy it’s an Asian record, a personal best and a world lead so that’s very good.”
I felt it was a high jump, it was good I liked it technically my coach was happy so I’m really happy to do such a technical good jump over 2.41m and it only shows that you can do much more but you need to go through the process.”
As for which of his three attempts at the WR he felt closest with, he added: “I think the first one…But I didn’t like any of the them. I didn’t get that right moment I was just a little bit too excited for it.
I was running fast without control, automatically your body is running fast, you can’t control it, the speed is too high for the take off, I can’t tool that speed I’m not that strong so I’ve got to start slower. As you know it’s still part of the process, it will come hopefully.”
In the past Barshim has been known to quote Muhammed Ali as an inspiration, even going as far as to create an alternative tag-line based on the star’s famous words; “I want to float like a butterfly, spring like a bee,” he said in March last year before he poignantly went on to win a first world title at the world indoors in Sopot. So as he did his best to live up to his new quote once more last night, there was another element of Ali’s makeup that shone through, his charisma and personality. No one would be audacious enough to put the high jumper on the same level as one of the world’s greatest athletes, yet the way that Barshim delivered himself oozes with class and enthusiasm for his sport. If anything he is more gracious than Ali; you never see any slating of an opponent or gamesmanship, just someone who is willing to give back to his fans in whatever way possible.
Last night for example, he probably took selfies or signed autographs with 90% of the capacity crowd at the AIT, and although he may have been tired he refused to show it, smiling for whoever wanted him to.
His popularity and star value is one that is rising almost by the day, to the extent that alongside being the face of field events, he seems like the most likely candidate to take over as the face of athletics once Usain Bolt does finally retire and now Doha 2019 seems the perfect stage for him to have a Berlin 2009 esc moment, although there’s a strong chance that will come sooner than then.
In truth, a world record is all that stands in his way from ultimate super stardom to the extent where people will be saying I can jump as high as Mutaz, I’m the next Barshim, in the same way so many young kids and more than a few adults have claimed to be ‘the next Usain Bolt’ since the euphoria of 2008.
Until then Barshim’s stock will continue to rise with every Asian record or world lead that he sets. What gravity huh?