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Report22 Aug 2023

Half-bearded Tamberi celebrates full-on global high jump gold in Budapest


Gianmarco Tamberi celebrates his high jump win in Budapest (© Getty Images)

Cometh the hour, cometh the showman. The great Italian showman of track and field.

For the second time in three years, Gianmarco Tamberi found himself on top of the world, celebrating a global high jump success. Only this time, at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, the 31-year-old had the stage to himself as outright champion.

After feeding off the energy of the huge Italian contingent in the crowd at the National Athletics Centre to become the only man to nail 2.36m at the first time of asking, Tamberi found himself clasped by the Qatari king of the high jump, Mutaz Barshim.

The former king, that is. At the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the pair famously embraced in celebration of joint gold medal success. Two years on, Tamberi was the undisputed sole champion.

Sporting his old lucky half-beard for the first time since before Tokyo, and with a national flag painted on his upper left arm, he succeeded his great friend and rival as world outdoor champion. And, for good measure, completed a full set of major medals: Olympic, world outdoor and indoor, and European outdoor and indoor.

Not since the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro back in 2016 had anyone got the better of Barshim in a global high jump competition outdoors but in Budapest the three-time world outdoor champion had to settle for bronze with 2.33m – behind Tamberi and JuVaughn Harrison of the US, who ticked off a clean card until an unsuccessful first shot at 2.36m.

Harrison succeeded with his second attempt at that height but, like Tamberi, was unable to negotiate 2.38m. 

The Italian, who had scraped through to the final with a last-gasp clearance at 2.28m in qualifying, and who entered the competition with a first-time failure at 2.25m, turned to his voluble supporters in triumph.

His form has been patchy for most of the season, though a 2.34m clearance for second place behind Barshim’s 2.36m world lead at the Silesia Diamond League meeting proved to be a launch pad to higher things – and Italian party time by the banks of the Danube.

Chants of “Ole! Ole! Ole! Gimbo! Gimbo!” rang round the arena as the half-bearded national hero savoured a full-on global success.

The world indoor champion in Portland in 2016 and the joint Olympic champion in Tokyo in 2021, Tamberi had his first world outdoor medal of any colour – at the fifth attempt.

“I just went for it,” said Tamberi, who had to overcome a career-threatening ankle injury en route to his full set of titles. “I wanted to write history by winning gold medals at all the major competitions. 

“The feeling is amazing. It is worth all the sacrifices over the years. After the qualifications I was a little scared because I did not feel as good as I wanted, but I knew I always change in the final.

“The new me comes out and my strength is that I always give 100%. I am looking forward to the European Athletics Championships in Rome, my home country, next year. I have never competed in Italy at such a level wearing the Italian uniform. Of course, I will be looking forward to competing at the Olympic Games. There is no high jumper who won two Olympic golds so making history in Paris would be amazing. But first, the party tonight. I need to celebrate this medal because after one year of sacrifices and diet, I deserve it.”

As for the former champion, he was far from downhearted.

“I came here with three world golds and one silver and managed to add a bronze tonight,” said Barshim, who has had to contend with back and knee problems in recent years. “Look at my career. It is really amazing. 

“If it was not me that did this, but someone else, I would like to be that someone. Today I look at my CV and I am the only high jumper with such a medal count. This almost brings tears to my eyes. I just need to give myself credit. Having my son here only makes it more memorable. It is very emotional to have all my family and friends out here.

 “The atmosphere on the field was electric. The rivalry between all the jumpers was incredible. I enjoyed every moment of it. I am happy that Tamberi won the gold. It was a medal he was missing from his CV and he added it tonight. 

“He deserved to be on the top of the podium. He has been working really hard and it is time for him to celebrate. The Paris Olympics is my next goal but it will be my last. It will be more like a contest, not revenge.”

Prior to the start, Barshim had been the epitome of cool. While the rest of the field performed practise jumps in earnest, he lay down on a towel on the infield for a good 20 minutes.

He passed the opening eight, 2.20m, and the lack of preparation showed in a rusty first attempt at 2.25m that sent the bar tumbling.

Other fancied podium contenders struggled too. Tobias Potye, European silver medallist behind Tamberi in in his home town of Munich last year, was also unable to nail his first shot. So did Tamberi, who also entered at 2.25m.

At that formative stage, the joint Olympic champions were bottom of the pile. But not for long. 

As though stung into action, Barshim walked purposefully to the perimeter fence for an extended run up, generating the speed that took him comfortably clear with his second attempt. Potye and then Barshim followed suit.

Andrii Protsenko, a world indoor silver medal winner nine years ago, needed three attempts but the 35-year-old Ukrainian’s team mate Oleh Doroshchuk and Tamberi’s compatriot Marco Fassinotti both bowed out.

That whittled the field down to 10 but with just four boasting clean cards: Japan’s Ryoichi Akamatsu, Australia’s 2018 Diamond League champion Brandon Starc, Harrison and Korea’s world indoor champion Woo Sanghyeok.

When the bar was raised to 2.29m, however, Barshim was the first to succeed, clearly getting into the groove. Potye and Tamberi also registered first time clearances but Harrison and Woo both maintained their unblemished records, putting them in joint pole position.

Barshim resumed prone position, lying stretched out, eyes staring up through his giant shades at the night sky, while the rest struggled to get into a successful rhythm.

Cuba’s 2016 world U20 champion Luis Enrique Zayas was the only one to make it at the second time of asking. Shelby McEwen, who finished fifth on home ground in Oregon last year, nailed his third attempt.

Starc, Protsenko, Akamatsu and Pole Norbert Kobielski all bit the dust, leaving seven men still in the hunt as the stakes were raised to 2.33m

Barshim, now lying joint third, was the first man up, and the first man over – comfortably so, the three-time champion clearing the bar with considerable room to spare.

Gauntlet having been thrown down, Harrison duly picked it up, consolidating top spot with an assured first-time success. Then Tamberi followed suit, much to the delight of the crowd.

Woo and Potye both fluffed their opening shots but Zayas rose to the occasion to shoot up into fourth spot. Not to be undone, Potye nailed his second attempt but Woo, after his blank, and McEwen, after two, both chose to pass to 2.36m

Only Barsim had managed that height thus far in the outdoor season but his momentum suffered a sudden jolt. The Qatari failed once, then twice, then – after two of his rivals subsequently upped the pressure with successful attempts – ultimately failed with his last chance saloon shot.

In the battle for the deposed three-time champion’s crown, Harrison put a blemish on his card with a first time fail. Which left the stage for Tamberi, the ultimate drama king of the high jump.

He did not disappoint. Fuelled by the roars from the crowd, he sailed over, then turned to salute his supporters.

Harrison cleared his second attempt and, with Zayas, Potye, Woo and McEwen all bowing out, it came down to a head to head.

Harrison, now playing catch up in second, was first to step up to the plate at 2.38m. Three centimetres beyond his season’s best, and two beyond his lifetime best, the 24-year-old was unable to rise to the challenge first time.

Neither was Tamberi, who’s season’s best of 2.34m put him fourth on the world list heading into the championships. Then Harrison was unsuccessful again and, while Tamberi proceeded to knock off the bar second time, the US jumper found himself at the counter of the last chance bar.

His heels knocked off the bar, prompting mass Italian celebrations. Tamberi turned to acknowledged the crowd, then consoled the silver medallist and found himself locked in embrace with Barshim.

A sometime drummer in the rock band The Dark Melody, Tamberi conducted the chanting crowd with his outstretched arms, took one half-hearted attempt at 2.40m, then raced to the edge of the arena to collect a green, white and red national flag.

The Italian celebrations were long and loud.

Simon Turnbull for World Athletics


🥇 Gianmarco Tamberi 🇮🇹 ITA 2.36m =WL
🥈 JuVaughn Harrison 🇺🇸 USA 2.36m =WL
🥉 Mutaz Barshim 🇶🇦 QAT 2.33m
  Full results

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