Series26 Jun 2017

My greatest challenge – Mutaz Essa Barshim


Mutaz Essa Barshim at the IAAF World Championships (© AFP / Getty Images)

For Olympic silver medallist and 2014 world indoor champion Mutaz Essa Barshim, overcoming a serious injury in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games was his greatest challenge.

Untimely injury

“In May 2012 I was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the back. It was hard because every doctor I spoke to said my season was done and that would be the end of my Olympic dream. I was quite messed up in my head and I had many negative thoughts. I was lucky to surround myself with positive people; my coach, family and friends. It was at this point I thought I have two choices: I can either continue to complain about it or I can try to do something about it.

“I was really stubborn. I thought, ‘I know my body best and even if I have a 50 per cent chance of making the Olympics, I should do everything possible to compete in London’.

“Because of the injury, I could not jump or lift weights. I could only run, stretch and undergo massage. It was hard to know how the injury was progressing. Because of the pain I was experiencing, I still felt I couldn’t push it and it only became clear to me that I could jump about two weeks before the Olympics.

“Even then, it was not until I watched the opening ceremony with my coach (Stanislaw Szczybra) in Poland did I decide to compete. I thought the Olympics is history, I have to step up and try to compete.

“The first time I jumped for almost three months came in the qualification warm up. The jumps felt terrible, I had no feeling in my arms and legs. I had no time to find my old rhythm. Yet somehow I made it through qualification and that felt good.

“Leading into the final, I knew I was not in good shape but I had to banish any negative thoughts. I looked to my coach and we both agreed that I had nothing to lose. I just had to go out and enjoy myself, jump for my family and my country.

“During every jump, I felt pain in my lower back. There was so much pressure on the take-off point, it felt like there was no air in the wheels. I cleared 2.29m and it didn’t feel like it was enough for a medal, but it proved to be enough.

“To get bronze (in a three-way share with Canada’s Derek Drouin and Great Britain’s Robbie Grabarz) was like winning the gold. It was a big moment of celebration and it proved to me that I could overcome all these problems and turn a negative into a positive. I felt that year I grew so much as a high jumper and my confidence soared to a whole new level.”

Steve Landells for the IAAF