Robbie Grabarz eager to hit new heights after coping with 'scary' Olympics


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The Independent Online

Two weeks on, Robbie Grabarz can still feel the stomach-churning moment when he stepped from the shadows into the full glare – and thunder – of public recognition. "I was standing next to the French guy in the line-up and I said to him, 'I'm a little bit scared about getting introduced because of the noise,'" the British high jumper recalled of the immediate lead-up to the Olympic final. "When the crowd erupts like that, it's enough to move your insides. It's really scary."

A year ago, Grabarz was competing in front of two men, a dog and a handful of fellow athletes, coaches and officials in the McCain UK Challenge final at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham. Not even the dog probably took much notice. The tall, skeletal Cambridgeshire man jumped a modest 2.17metres. He was ranked No 44 in the world in his event.

A fortnight ago, it was different. All of a sudden, being Robbie Grabarz was like being Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Whenever he stepped on to the high jump runway, there he was: up on the giant screen, with 80,000 sets of lungs roaring him on.

"A track athlete gets that once and then they race, whereas I had it repeatedly, even during my warm-up," the 24-year-old reflected. "I don't think I'll experience pressure or an atmosphere like that again in my whole career – no matter what I do or where I go."

Before getting knocked out of his groove when the bar was raised, Grabarz held his nerve superbly, registering the first-time clearances at 2.25m and 2.29m that took him to a brilliant bronze medal. On Sunday, there will be the two men, the dog plus a 12,800 sell-out crowd at the Alexander Stadium – his adopted home track – to see him jump in the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix Diamond League meeting.

"It has been strange, being out and about in Birmingham since the Games – people spotting you, taking pictures of you and whispering about you," Grabarz added. "I have to enjoy it – otherwise, my life isn't going to be very pleasant over the next four to six years. No, it's great. I just smile and enjoy the photos."

On Sunday, Grabarz will be up against Ivan Ukhov, the Russian who took the Olympic title with a 2.38m clearance. Inevitably, however, Grabarz already has one eye on 2013, when he can expect to be back on the Lottery funding list. "If I jumped one bar higher this year in every competition my career would be phenomenal," he said. "Going into next year, that's what you want to be looking to do."

Watch the world's best athletes in action at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix this Sunday. Live coverage on BBC2