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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis