If you take a peek at his Twitter account (@mutazbarshim), Mutaz Essa Barshim can be seen in some photos wearing a cap emblazoned with the words, “WHAT GRAVITY?’’
What gravity, indeed.
The 24-year-old high jumper from Qatar is doing his best to defy the reality of what comes up, must come down for as long as he can. Thus far, he’s remained aloft long enough to sail his thin physique over a bar just a tick below 8 feet, the height of most residential living rooms.
Think about that for a moment and try to envision a man soaring over your living room ceiling while you’re on the couch watching television. That’s what Barshim does better than just about everyone.
At 6-feet, 3 1⁄2 inches tall (1.92m) and 154 pounds, he’s ideally built for clearing heights that threaten the long-standing world record of 8-0 1⁄2 (2.45m), set by Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor in 1993.
In 2013, Barshim became one of only 14 men to clear 7-10 1⁄2 (2.40m). A year later he had improved to 7-11 1⁄2 (2.43m).
“It’s like flying and it takes a long time before you come down,’’ Barshim told the IAAF magazine SPIKES. “A few years ago it was a big dream and it’s nice to have finally made it.’’
Though he won’t turn 25 until June, Barshim already has a complete set of medals from international competitions, including gold from the 2014 World Indoor Championships. He also has silver from the 2013 World Championships and a bronze from the 2012 London Olympics (when he tied for third with Derek Drouin of Canada).
Barshim will try to successfully defend his championship from 2014 at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland as part of his overall preparations for the Olympic year. He got off to a good start indoors on Jan. 31 at his training base in Malmo, Sweden, by clearing 7-8 (2.34m) and declaring on Twitter: “Happy with 2.34 opening today. World lead.’’
While Barshim and Bogdan Bondarenko of Ukraine flirted with the world record during a series of epic duels in 2014, the pair was not quite up to that lofty standard in 2015. Even though he finished out of the medals at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, Barshim still earned a No. 1 world ranking by Track & Field News based on his earlier season best of 7-10 3⁄4 (2.41m) along with wins on the Diamond League circuit in Shanghai, Zurich and the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in Eugene.
Through social media, Barshim sent a birthday greeting to Sotomayor last year. Through sheer happenstance, he met the American actress Meryl Streep at a sports awards dinner in his hometown of Doha in Qatar. Turns out Streep is good friends with the daughter of Emir Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani.
“I ended up sitting next to Meryl and I was chatting to her and her husband,’’ Barshim told the IAAF. “They both seemed to love the high jump and both knew a lot about my results. I was surprised they knew about me.’’
If he manages to break Sotomayor’s world record to become only the second athlete to clear 8 feet, many more people will know about Mutaz Barshim, a man who does his best to defy gravity for as long as he can.