Before they were stars
Ever wondered what your favourite sportspeople were like before they were super-mega-famous? Every week Tokyo 2020 will give you a glimpse into what life was like for some of the world’s greatest athletes before they were stars.
- Name: Mutaz Essa Barshim
- Age: 29
- Nationality: Qatari
- Profession: High jump
What has he achieved?
Modern day sport often brings up fairy tale stories, with relatively unknown athletes hitting global headlines as they bring unprecedented success to a nation.
Among them is high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim.
Qatar doesn't have an extensive podium-topping history as far as track and field sports are concerned, but Bashim has single-handedly carved his achievements into the record books.
Barshim rose to become one of the best high jumpers in the world with two Olympic medals (bronze at London 2012 and silver at Rio 2016) along with two World Championship titles (2017 and 2019). He is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest high jumpers in history alongside world record holder Javier Sotomayor, German legend Dietmar Mogenburg and Sweden’s Stefan Holm.
Barshim, who initially wanted to be a race walker, holds both the Qatari national and Asian outdoor records (2.43m) in high jump, and in a country bereft of sporting heroes in athletics, he has turned that upside down and is one of the most revered athletes in Qatar.
The 29-year-old elevated his iconic status in 2019 when he produced a stunning performance in front of a home crowd in Doha to defend his World Championship title, despite having had an injury scare before the competition.
Looking at what he has achieved so far in his high jump career, most would assume that he was a child prodigy.
However, a teenage Barshim would tell you a completely different story.
Born into a family of Sudanese origin, Barshim took up athletics at an early age, following the footsteps of his father, who was a race walker.
As well as race walking, Barshim took an interest in long jump and triple jump, but decided to specialise in the high jump.
But he was not an instant hit and readily admits that he was "always the worst" when he first started.
Speaking to Sport 360 about his early days, Barshim said: "Until the age of 17 I was always the worst. There were a lot of people in my group doing it and they were much better than me. I never felt like I was someone special."
"But my father always told me 'keep doing what you are doing, hard work, be patient, that’s what’s going to make the difference'. So, I kept going no matter what."
And he did just that.
What is he up to now?
An Asian record, two World Championships and two Olympic medals would be a dream achievement for any athlete, but not for Barshim, who is gunning for more glory at Tokyo 2020.
He is currently training in Malmo, Sweden, and after bronze at London 2012 and silver at Rio 2016, hopes are high that he can go better and clinch gold at the Olympics next year.
Whether or not he manages to stand on top of the podium in Tokyo remains to be seen, but for someone who thought the worst of himself at the age of 17, he is surely living the dream at the peak of his career.