Robbie Grabarz: London gold the aim of his naked ambition

New attitude sees high jumper leap to second in the world — via a spot of nude modelling

As recently as the start of this London Olympic year, Robbie Grabarz could roll up for training without turning a single head. Having failed to qualify for the World Championships in Daegu last summer, he was off the Lottery funding list and off the media radar.

It is different now. There were camera crews and reporters queuing up to speak to the 24-year-old Cambridgeshire athlete as he went about his high-jumping business at the UK Athletics High Performance Centre on the north side of Birmingham yesterday afternoon.

At the end of 2011 Grabarz was 44th in the world in his event. Six weeks out from the 2012 Olympics, he is joint-second – alongside Jesse Williams, the American who won the world title last summer.

On his Diamond League debut in Rome, the week before last, Grabarz beat Williams, maintaining his composure to clear 2.33 metres first time, amid the din surrounding Usain Bolt's appearance in the 100m. Last weekend in New York the world champion beat the Briton, but only on the countback system after both men cleared 2.36m.

Grabarz showed a hint of what was to come with a 2.34m jump indoors at Wuppertal in Germany in January and any doubts that he had the wherewithal to cut it with the world's highest fliers have been removed in the last fortnight. He has established himself as a big new medal hope for the home Games – hence the sudden attention being paid to the former Cambridgeshire county hockey player.

"I'm enjoying it," Grabarz said. "It's what comes with jumping high. I expected to jump high this year, so it's not like it's a surprise to me."

It might have surprised some that Grabarz chose to increase his exposure by posing naked for the gay magazine Attitude, his modesty protected only by a strategically-placed Union Jack. When he attended the photo-shoot, he was asked what Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, might think of him following in the bare sporting footsteps of David Beckham, Freddie Ljungberg and Gareth Thomas. "He'll probably smile, shake his head and say, 'So long as you jump high in the summer I couldn't care less what you get up to in your spare time,'" Grabarz replied.

So had van Commenee said anything since the magazine was published? "He came up to me and said he'd read what I'd said and that I'd summed him up perfectly," Grabarz said, chuckling. "He said, 'That's exactly what I would have done.'

"I have no regrets about doing it. I had a great time. I don't have a problem about being naked anyway. It was just all good fun."

It just so happens that the one high jumper above Grabarz in the world rankings right now is the man who has probably brought more exposure to the event than anyone since Dick Fosbury did his Flop. Russia's Ivan Ukhov, who cleared 2.37m at Opole in Poland last Saturday, attracted 2.5million hits on YouTube for his slapstick antics while drunk on vodka and Red Bull at the Lausanne Grand Prix in September 2008.

Grabarz himself has confessed to being something of a party animal. He attributes his 2012 transformation to a change of attitude, a focusing of attention since the failure of 2011, under the guidance of his coach, Fuzz Ahmed, a former international high jumper who is also a part-time actor who has appeared in EastEnders and The Bill.

"A great deal of it is down to Fuzz," Grabarz said. "He has challenged me a lot and inspired me to move on."

Robbie Grabarz is an ambassador for Alfa Romeo – official car supplier to UK Athletics. Visit: www.alfaromeo.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory