Mutaz Barshim, High Jump World Champion on his new Richard Mille RM 67-02 High Jump
Getting to have a one on one sit down with a sporting icon is certainly not an everyday opportunity. Even more so with a World Champion. Fortunately, I was invited by the Richard Mille team to do just that at their Mount Street boutique, Mayfair with none other than High Jump World Champion Mutaz Essa Barshim from Qatar.
The reasoning behind this was due to the release of his RM 67-02 High Jump watch. Mutaz, along with South African sprinter Wayne Van Niekerk are the latest sports ambassadors of Richard Mille and have collaborated with the brand to produce their own signature timepieces.
Mutaz had only stepped off a flight from Doha an hour prior to my sitting with him, and the immediate vibe radiating from the young champion was a sense of excitement and energy. The laughter from our conversation filled the boutique, and I really got a sense of how laid back and most of all, how humble the Qatari high jumper is.
So after some general conversation and shared laughs, we sat now and hit record:
When did you decide that you wanted to become an athlete?
From a very young age. My father used to be an athlete, so he used to take me with him to the stadium when I was young, and it kind of like flew into me, I grew into it because of my father, but I think I started doing it when I was 10, 11 years old.
And why was it High Jump in particular?
Actually I started doing distance running because of my father and I did a lot of cross countries, but then I didn’t find the joy in it because when I was training I see the other kids that are doing jumps, it looks so much fun because you know the training they always do the backflips, the trampoline stuff so for me at that age I wasn’t thinking about something professional level, I just wanted to have fun, get out of the house, not do homework, and just do something fun. So, I talked to my coach back then at the sports club and he was like ‘yeah you could join them’, so then I decided to do jumps. Just because it’s fun.
So what is it like to compete on such a large stage?
First of all I’m very happy and I would say I’m even lucky enough to be doing what I love come my career, because I love high jump, not something just I wanna do because of something, I really love it when I’m sad or I’m mad I just go to the track and start jumping because I love that thing. So for me to create something out of it and to compete at such a high level, a professional level I’m really happy and for me as I say it’s like, when I was younger I was always looking at some videos of the old guys, and I always wanted to be there, and now that I’m there, it’s like just the best thing. I’m really happy.
And how do you deal with the pressure?
The pressure is always there, it’s high pressure, and of course the noise is there I mean but, I think just my way of jumping I need that little pressure, I need somebody to push me. If you see all my best results, big competitions, I cannot perform well if it’s an easy take or you know it’s an easy competition, maybe I will win but the result is so and so. But for me to be able to give it my best I will always need pressure. And how do I get used to it and adjust to it? It’s just by time. So in the beginning of course the difficulty of coming to a big stage and you’re like ‘oh 60,000 people in the stadium this and that, what if? What not’ but I guess you know it’s just by time. I’m really thankful for my coach, my team that are keeping me on track and you know competition after competition after competition, it’s just becoming from fear to experience and you learn what to do next time!
So can you describe the feeling of winning the World Championship, after trying to work towards it for so long?
First of all it’s a mountain of relief. First thing and you’re like ‘Ah I did it!’ because you know once you get that title it’s forever. I can tell my kids that I was best in the world! For me it’s something I always wanted to have. It’s like the three titles I didn’t have before winning the World Championship; the Outdoor World Championship gold, Olympic gold, and the World Record, and now that I’ve secured the World Championship gold outdoor and indoor, not much left to do. So really I feel like it’s a great honour and there are so many people behind me, my team, my country, you know my fans everybody that keeps pushing and supporting. I feel like I did not let them down and all the sacrifices and hard work away from home and everything really paid off. You feel like when you’re on that podium you’re like ‘oh I didn’t do that for nothing’, so it’s worth it!
When did you first take an interest in watches?
I would say from 15 years old I start liking fashion and watches. Back then I always look and you see something nice and start talking about it with your friends, so I always have something for that. By the age of 17 I would start making money you know from sport, and then I start to ‘ok now I know more details I got into more luxury brands’ so I know exactly which brands is this one and what’s that, and then it just flew into me because it’s a passion, and it just started growing and growing and growing!
What is it that draws you to Richard Mille in particular?
You know it’s actually a funny thing because it’s before the Olympics, I knew Richard Mille since I was 18, oh no actually maybe even older like 20 years old I start to know it, because I’ve seen the watches but I don’t know what they’re called but ‘it’s that shape’. I didn’t know exactly which one it is but then when I was 20 years old I was like ‘Ah Richard Mille I know that model and I know how it goes and everything’. So, I was like “ok if I’m going to win any medal at the Olympics I’m going to buy myself a Richard Mille watch”. That was my goal. I told my friends “I don’t care, if I get a medal at the Rio Olympics I’m gonna buy A Richard Mille myself! That’s my reward, I don’t want to buy anything else, that’s my reward!”. And then actually when I was there at the Rio Olympics and I got the silver medal, afterwards we went outside and our Olympic President, he was talking to me and congratulating me, and he said like ‘Yeah Richard, he really liked your jump and he wants to meet you’, and I’m like ‘Richard who?’! He was like ‘yeah Richard from Richard Mille’ and I was like ‘Nah he’s kidding” and he was like ‘yeah!’ and he showed me the message like ‘I want to meet you I hope!’ And then he came and he was a really cool guy, he was friendly, he was talking, you know, we were chatting the whole night, enjoying the competition. So then he was like ‘I really like your character and in sport how people are attracted to you, and I really want you to be with me and the brand’! So that’s how it became this. After that we met a couple of times before we had dinner in Paris and we talked about it!
So what is it about this watch that enables you to use it while still competing at the highest level?
First of all it’s great, we’ve been talking about it for a year, how to make it, we want to make something that I’m going to compete with. I want it to be like Qatar colours, that’s going to be like the maroon and white. I’m a high jumper, so every gram matters, so I want something that’s so light and we talked about it and Richard tell me ‘I’m going to make something even lighter than Nadal’s watch’. And I look at him and I’m like ‘Richard I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ because for me that was like ‘how can you make something lighter?!’. He was like ‘just trust me’ and I was like ‘ok’, let’s work on it, and he’d been going off to the factory and then he come to me and is like ‘the result is great, just be patient’. Then we talk about different stuff, how is going to be the design, the look. For me I want it to be something of course like, the weight, and of course at the same time I want it to be elegant, because it’s a cool luxury brand I want something that’s going to catch your eye if you’re going to look. So we share a couple of ideas. He did it. He did the magic. When he came, I couldn’t believe it. I got it last July before the World Championships. I did my first session and was really happy and impressed.
Why did you choose to have the Qatar colours on the watch?
I wanted something to resemble – because it’s my signature watch – I want something to resemble me as the Qatari athlete, because as you say if somebody has to look at it, ‘what was the colour about?’ that’s the first thing they going to say like, ‘yeah but what’s the colour about?’ that’s Qatar, so it makes more sense as something authentic. And it’s my first piece, maybe in the future we do some things different, but the first one, that’s going to always make a big impression.
Why is the new comfort strap such an important part of the watch for athletes such as yourself?
It’s so cool, you just have it slide on. As a sports person always jumping a lot and bouncing here and there, it’s really sticking to your wrist and it’s even lighter than the other strap! It’s like 2 grams. Nothing! You know you have quality but you don’t feel it. You can’t complain!
And of course the lightweight nature of the watch plays to your advantage.
Of course, you know saving weight. It’s a luxury watch, but also when you put it on your wrist you’re like wow it’s a sports watch as well, you know, so it’s a combination of both. It’s elegant, it’s sexy, it’s slim, but still it’s not that disturbing when you want to do some sport! Before I jump I look at it and I’m like ‘yeah!’! Before, I didn’t jump with watches and that’s something I discussed with Richard, ‘do you not jump with watches?’ and I’m like ‘nah they’re too heavy’ and he was like, ‘I got you’.
Many of the athletes competing for Qatar were born in other countries, so what is it like to be one of the few who were born and raised in Qatar itself?
For me it’s very important, because your need to send the right message out to the people you know, like ‘aye it doesn’t matter what you are, where you’re from, you can do it, we can do it, we are Qatari from here we can do it’ and to see somebody from their home grown up and setting a good example, it’s just making them believe, and that’s what I see now we start to change a lot! Sport and Doha have really been growing a lot I mean we have, from the emir himself, he created the national sports day where everybody has to go out and do sport. He’s encouraging himself, everybody coming outside and we have great facilities. So, I think we have the right potential to become very high-level athletes in different sports and I am one of a few examples that now we can see at the award winning stage, and I’m really happy to see young kids come and follow. I see now in this team a lot of famous athletes accompanying the children, they want to do this. Because you know everything starts with a first step, and when they see somebody make it they’re like ‘oh! ’and everybody’s following, and that’s what we needed so I’m really happy.
So do you think the country is becoming more sports orientated?
Oh definitely. I’ve seen this. I’m talking about it now compared to 10 years before, it’s a huge difference. It’s become like a lifestyle. People are now saying ‘oh let’s go do some sport’ and that’s what I want. I’m not talking sport at professional level in particular, that will follow up later, but I want to start sport as a lifestyle.
What does a typical day of training usually involve, and when not training what do you most enjoy doing in your own time?
Normally I’m training somewhere, not much home but mostly in Europe because my coach is from Poland. But I train twice a day normally, let’s say from 10am to 12am for two hours I train there, I come back home relax, have some lunch, normally watching movies or something, relaxing. Afternoon maybe I train from 5pm to 7pm, then maybe between that I get some massage treatment, so just easy chill day because when I’m competing around the season I don’t like to do so much activities. So basically its training, home, training, home.
As an athlete how careful are you with your diet?
You know, it’s very hard, but also as a high jumper it’s really difficult because, I always say high jump is an art because you need speed; not much of it otherwise it won’t help, you need some power but you can’t go to the gym and start lifting a lot otherwise you will create volume, which is not going to help you because that’s extra weight. You need to be flexible to rotate over the bar, but not too flexible because you’re going to lose some strength. So, it’s like a puzzle you know, you need a little bit of everything, and you need to have the artist which is the coach that knows your body and knows what to work with. So, it’s a big combination of everything, we need flexibility, speed, power, we need some elasticity, and of course to make the bounce, the jumping, so we do actually everything, all kind of training but, to each person it’s different according to your body.
During Ramadan how do you continue to train and compete?
Actually for me it’s an advantage as a high jumper you know, for the weight! Because it’s really difficult to lose weight because you need to eat and drink. I don’t have to fast because I can always do it later, but I use it because I’m like ‘ok since it’s Ramadan, I want to fast!’, because then my weight does drop and my coach is really happy and I jump easier. So, whenever Ramadan comes during the season I’m happy, it’s an advantage! When I’m travelling I don’t do it and when I’m competing I don’t do it, but when I’m training and it’s Ramadan and I know I have a competition in like 10 days, I can do 3 or 4 days and the weight will go down. Then I don’t feel like I’m struggling because you know it’s Ramadan so everybody around me is fasting so what am I complaining about. I use it, it really helps me a lot, because losing weight just like that is very hard!
So Mutaz, slightly off the topic of watches and athletics, what is your favourite city to visit?
Ah, you know that’s a really difficult question because I’m never home, and I always say home because, the whole year I’m never home like, I have only one month off season, and now I’m here. This year I think I’ve been home 2 weeks or something. So I’m always travelling, and when I start travelling of course I love different places, but, my favourite city is Doha. I just want to be home, at home with my family and just relax. When you feel like ‘ah, I’m home’ and you don’t have nothing to do like that. So it’s home. Yeah, I want to be home, for now, I don’t know how long in the future but for now I just want to be home.
If you could only choose one car, what would your dream car be?
Woooow, dream car. Hahaha the Bugatti! I think so, the Chiron. Bugatti definitely. Now I just need a Bugatti! Same colour as the watch hahaha, the combination!
And finally, now that you have become the World Champion, what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
You know, I’ve won every major championship except, the gold, the Olympic gold. I’ve got two Olympic medals, like in London I got bronze, in Rio I got silver, so I’m really hoping in Tokyo I’m going to get the gold, then I’ll have won every major championship. And then after that I only need the World Record. So I have two targets left. I need the World Record, and the gold in the Olympics.
And the World Record is 2.45m?
Yeah it’s 2.45m since 1993. The Cuban, Sotomayor, and my best is 2.43m.
Only 2 centimeters but how does that relate to training?
Yeah it’s only, but you know it’s very good mentally, like, ‘I’m there, it’s only 2!’ so I have potential, but I also know that these 2 centimeters may take 2 years of hard work and dedication. You know, it’s really really tough once you get to some levels like two forties level to go up. Each centimeter is like hell. But I mean, that’s a target, so we focus on it, we are determined to do it. I believe in myself, in my team, and everybody surrounding me, so I just hope to stay healthy, injury free and I think I can take a good shot at the World Record!
Written by Azzam Jamil @tourbillonlifestyle