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Robbie Grabarz: Taste of Stratford has fuelled motivation of high jumper


It was this time last year that Robbie Grabarz found himself at a crossroads. He had just turned 24 and his athletics career was seemingly going nowhere.

The Cambridgeshire high jumper had failed to qualify for the British team for the main event of the pre-Olympic year, the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. He had finished the outdoor season ranked 44th in the world, with a best jump of 2.28 metres. And he had just discovered he had been totally dropped from Lottery funding.

On the table was an offer to pursue his dream job away from the sporting arena: restoring classic cars. Grabarz thought long and hard about a change of direction.

"I was pretty close to taking up the job offer," he confesses. "It was on the table, ready to go, and it had a two-week deadline on it – do you want this job or not?

"I took myself away and said, 'Do I really want to go and restore cars for a living? Or do I want to give high jumping one last shot?'

"It was a tough decision, because that kind of job offer doesn't come along very often, but obviously I made the right decision."

He did that. Twelve months on, instead of tinkering around with carburettors for a living, Grabarz has established himself among the global elite of track and field. In June he won the European high jump title in Helsinki. In early August he won an Olympic bronze medal in London. And at the end of the 2012 outdoor season he scooped the $40,000 (£24,800) prize as the top high jumper in the IAAF's Diamond League series.

The fateful decision to give athletics one last shot came not just after the car restorer job offer but after a heart-to-heart talk in which Grabarz's coach, Fuzz Ahmed, had told him he needed to change his attitude drastically if he was to have any hope of realising his rich potential.

"To be honest, I think it helped me make a clearer decision, because the offer was there to go," Grabarz says. "It wasn't just, 'Don't do track any more.' It was a matter of, 'Don't do it and you've got something else to go and do straight away.'

"It made it real. It wasn't just a light-hearted decision – 'Ah, I don't know what else I want to do, I'll keep doing the track and field.' It was, 'Do you really want to do this yet or jump high.' And I decided to pull my finger out and start performing."

He did so from the breadline – a position several of his Olympic team-mates now find themselves in after the announcement of the Lottery funding list for 2012-13 this week.

It was only when he began hitting the heights in the indoor season in January that Grabarz started to earn money to fund himself. This time, he is on the World Class Performance list issued by UK Athletics and will receive an estimated £55,000 a year.

"I've achieved a lot without that funding and support and I think I can achieve even more with it," Grabarz says. "My coach is supported by UK Athletics and UK Sport and that has directly affected me in that he has all the time in the world to dedicate to me. The fact that I'll have full access all the time to the medical services – things like that – is going to be phenomenal.

"You're looking to add small percentages to what you've already got. I think that's where you make the difference. Going into next year, the support of UK Athletics can only help me do that."

It should also be a help that Grabarz has been left with a lingering hunger from 2012. Olympic bronze was a stunning achievement but his form on the Diamond League circuit – he jumped 2.37m in Lausanne in August, equalling Steve Smith's UK outdoor record – showed his undoubted world-beating potential.

"I've got a massive motivation," he says. "I've achieved a lot but I've not done anything perfectly this year. There's so much more to improve upon and do better.

"I've probably got more fire in my belly after this year than I've ever had before. I've had a taste for it and I want more of it."

Back in training after a two-week break in Australia, Grabarz is already laying the foundations for the 2013 indoor season. As he reflects on his breakthrough year, though, which memory from 2012 will stand above all?

"The roar of the crowd in the Olympic Stadium will last with me for ever," Grabarz says.

"But I think the thing I'm proudest of is the turnaround that I have made in jumping consistently well. I think winning the Diamond League proves the fact that you've jumped high all year – and beaten the best guys in the world regularly."

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