Monday, 4 February 2013

Robbie Grab-bing for Gold in Moscow Revenge


Having watched his fierce Russian rival, Ivan Ukhov dominate the Olympic final on his territory in London last summer, British high-jumper Robbie Grabarz is now eager to repay the favour in Moscow this coming August by unsettling the pecking order at the IAAF World Championships. 

The 25-year-old European champion and Olympic bronze-medallist - though content with the outcome of his Olympic debut - is determined to seek revenge for the manner in which his illustrious Eastern-European counterpart destroyed both the opposition and his dream, ultimately providing the only disappointment in Grabarz’s fairytale 2012 campaign.

Guided by Fayyaz Ahmed at their Birmingham base in England, Grabarz revealed his plans for redemption in his first global outdoor championship:

“I’ll be in fantastic shape, ready to battle with Ukhov in his back-yard just like he did with me in mine last summer.

“Russia has five or six 2.30m jumpers to choose from and they thrive under the pressure – it’s nice to learn from watching videos of their jumps - but the fun of the high jump is the constant battle with each other, feeling happy when you clear a height only to look up and see your competitor do the

Keen to emphasise the friendly rivalry between himself and the Russians despite their intense encounters and the obvious language barrier, the 2012 IAAF Samsung Diamond League winner does however utilise the aid of a not-so-secret weapon in his quest to gain vengeance, courtesy of guidance from 2004 Olympic champion, Stefan Holm:

“I’ve been working with him for the last couple of years,” Grabarz explained of the Swedish four-time World Indoor victor, “It’s nice that he’s willing to help out and his input’s fantastic as he understands what I’m trying to achieve.”

‘Big Learning Curve’

Now entering only his second year as a world-class athlete following his breakthrough 2012, Grabarz is arguably one of the most-improved athletes of recent months – progressing from fiftieth in the 2011 world rankings to second by the end of last year.

He missed selection for the last IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea just a year out from claiming his Olympic medal – which he shared with Qatar’s Moutaz Essa Barshim-Ahmed and Canada’s Derek Drouin with a 2.29m leap behind Ukhov’s 2.38m winning clearance and runner-up Erik Kynard of the USA (2.33m).

And the London-born Grabarz credits his transformation to losing his funding from British Athletics a year ago and adopting a more professional approach to his training and lifestyle.

Just over a year ago, he improved his 2011 overall best by six-centimetres with a 2.34m clearance indoors in Wuppertal, Germany to kick-start an impressive year, which also saw him finish sixth in the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey with a 2.31m leap in March and go onto claim the continental crown with the same height in Helsinki, Finland on the eve of the Olympics.

Grabarz - whose surname originates from his Polish grandfather – then caused a surprise by equaling Steve Smith’s 20-year-old British record of 2.37m when finishing third in the Lausanne Diamond League behind Barshim-Ahmed (2.39m) and Ukhov (2.37m) in late August.

“I now want the record all to myself - I want to really own it for as long as possible and 2.40m (is the aim) it’s the pinnacle of high jump heights,” he insisted.

To conclude a glittering season, he captured the Diamond League winner’s trophy and $40,000 prize via two victories in Rome, Italy in May and Birmingham, UK in August and four second-place-finishes across the series.

“I knew I’d put the work in over the winter and had a new-found confidence - in competition, I kept catching the next wave so I really enjoyed it all year long and it was a big learning curve. When you’re in that flow, it’s really easy and that was a great pleasure – I hope my whole career can feel like that,” Grabarz revealed.

“Having 80,000 people (in the London Olympic stadium) supporting me was great - I knew I went in as a medal hope and in great shape. I got too excited, though and that’s why I didn’t get the silver but looking back, I’m really pleased.

“It was fantastic as previously, I’d not even been at the major champs - I knew I belonged there and I really enjoyed what I was doing, that helped make my performance better.

“It was quite frustrating to share the medal but satisfying also – Ukhov was unbeatable that day, he owned it out there and he knew he was going to win.”

Having cleared 2.25m and 2.29m on the first attempt and then failing at 2.33m three times, Grabarz continued: “To get a medal after only a few jumps was exciting.”

Moscow Dress-Rehearsal

After holidaying for a few weeks in Australia after the Games, Grabarz commenced training in October after his longest ever end-of-season break and opened his 2013 campaign with second place and 2.29m behind Russia’s World Indoor silver-medallist Alexey Dmitrik (2.31m) at the British
Athletics Glasgow International Match on Saturday.

Captaining the British team, he cleared the 2.25m mark at his second attempt before leaping 2.29m at the first, fouling twice at the 2.31m mark and conceding defeat after hitting the bar on his first attempt at 2.33m.

Competing for the first time since recording an 11.70 100m in high-jump spikes and 2:29.99 800m en route to finishing third in the BBC’s ‘Superstars Olympic special’ in November, Grabarz explained after the competition:

“It was good, it was nice to be challenged in my first competition - I took a risk and passed a bar to try and win it because I was in second place on count-back. I would have liked to have gone higher but I’m happy with it and there’s a lot more to come.

“I was quietly confident and it was the height I was expecting so I’m content with it. It was great fun and I enjoyed myself, it’s a good solid opener. It was a good atmosphere so it was really enjoyable.

“The (captain’s) speech went well, though I was more nervous for that than the competition itself but it was a nice privilege.”

Next, Grabarz will contest the British Athletics European Trials and UK Championships in Sheffield on February 10th, followed by the British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham in preparation for the forthcoming European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg.

Having failed to qualify for the final of the last edition in Paris two years ago, he has taken a new
approach to the countdown to the event, which – with three Russians in action - will act as a helpful dress-rehearsal for Moscow five months down the line:

“Before, I was tired by the time I got to the championships so this year, I’m doing less competitions to be fresh when it matters,” revealed Grabarz.

“It’s tough to compete and travel lots so this time, I’m heading into the season feeling strong.” 

On his aspirations for the Sweden event in early March, he continued:

“The aim’s to make the final with little effort and get a medal. I never set a height (as a goal) as so many things can go wrong in the high-jump.

“There will be a very strong Russian presence and they will be jumping high so the final probably won’t be too dissimilar to the World’s.

“I always use the indoors as a warm-up for the outdoor season, testing a few things leading into the summer and they all know who I am now - I think Ukhov and Dmitrik will be there but I know I’ve put the hard work in and the pressure’s more from me than anything else.”

Whether he can actually dethrone Russia from atop of the high-jump tree on their home-turf remains to be seen, but the un-intimidated Grabarz has just under seven-months and a bronze-coloured motive to find out how to do it.

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