The Gulf's Golden Boy
The men's high-jump is likely to be one of the most-followed events in the Gulf during the Rio Olympics, and that is all because of one man: Mutaz Barshim.
The young Qatari has been a global track-and-field star for several years now, having won the Bronze medal at London 2012 and with a personal best of 2.43cm - just 2cm off the existing world record. This season the charasmatic 25-year-old rides into Rio in fine form as the only person to have cleared a height of 2.40cm.
Before he set off, Esquire spoke to the medal favourite about competition, chasing gold and jumping with a broken back:
ESQ: What goals do you have for Rio 2016?
MB: I want to make history. My goal is to win the goal medal. If you are competing at the top level then you have to aim for the best and, for an athlete, that is the top step of the podium.
You have previously jumped 2.43cm. Do you believe you can go one step further and break the world record?
I know I can. If you don't believe in yourself then what are you competing for? You have to believe.
Do you have the numbers 2.45 written large in your room?
[Laughs] No. It's just one of the goals that I have set myself. I try to take each competition one at a time and fully focus on it. In sports you have to have long-term career goals, but you only achieve them by mastering the short-term goals that you set yourself everyday.
Have you ever met [high-jumping legend and world record holder] Javier Sotomayor?
I talk to him often. He is really supportive of me, and believes that I will break his record one day - although he told me he doesn't want to see it broken!
Did you really compete at London 2012 with a broken back?
Yeah, I did. It was very tough. Competing with an injury like that is like being in a Formula One race with a flat tyre. I told my coach that I was going to jump and that there was no stopping me. I was really happy to have won the bronze medal. I just wanted to make my friends and family proud.
What goes through your mind before you jump?
Before the run-up I close my eyes and pray. I block out the noise and I imagine myself making the jump and focus on exactly what I have to do, going through the action before the action begins. It's like tunnel vision.
Most people would think that jumping heights of 2.43cm is pure madness. Do you have to be a little bit crazy to be a high-jumper?
You have to be! If you weren't then you'd never do it. The successful guys are the ones who are willing to make sacrifices and take risks. A normal person would be like "are you crazy? I'd break a leg!". As an athlete, I know the risks that go with it. The trick is not to have any hesitation. If you hesitate even 0.01 percent then that's it - you're gone. You've got to be crazy. Fearless.
What made you choose high jump?
When I was younger I did a lot of running and cross-country, but I would always look at the guys doing high jump and think how fun it looked. You know, as a kid the only thing you are interested in is having fun. You're not worries about being a professional, so for me it was just something fun to waste time away from doing homework. Perhaps being a middle distance runner and running the whole time is fun for some people, but not for me. I loved doing high jump and being on the trampoline doing back flips - for me that was fun.
The trick is not to have any hesitation. If you hesitate even 0.01 percent then that's it - you're gone. You've got to be crazy. Fearless.
You're the Gulf's leading medal hope. Do you feel the need to set an example?
I hope I do set an example. I feel a great sense of pride in seeing people react in such a positive way to me - kids wanting pictures, telling me that they saw me on YouTube and TV. I want to see more people from the region competing, and not just at an Olympic level. Sport is becoming very big in Doha - with support from the country and government they have made a really great effort to push sport. There is even a national holiday when everyone is given the day off work to go and do sport!
Do you listen to music when doing your warm-up?
Yeah, but I don't want to encourage people to listen to the kind of music I like!
What kind of music is that?
[Laughs] I don't want to talk about it. Next question!
If you had to pick between the world record or winning an Olympic gold, which would you choose?
When it comes to sport you've got to be greedy. I want to win. In my career I want to have as much as possible. The ultimate thing in my sport is getting the world record, that's what everybody aims for: to be the greatest of all time. But, of course, the highest honour to have hanging around your neck is an Olympic gold.
Mutaz Barshim is a Nike-sponsored athlete. The high-jump Men's Final at Rio 2016 is on August 17.