Grabarz reaps benefits of his lofty standards
British high jumper keeps focus amid Games fever, writes Jack Pitt-Brooke
While most British athletes have revelled in the Olympic atmosphere, Robbie Grabarz has chosen to ignore it. Tonight, Grabarz competes in the final of the men's high jump, and with a good chance of victory. But, rather than hoping to ride the public enthusiasm and the medal momentum on to the podium, the single-minded Grabarz is thinking only of himself.
"There's going to be a hell of a lot of noise," he said ahead of his qualifying, in which he comfortably jumped 2.29m and reached the final. "Obviously, it's nice to think that every single person in that stadium wants me to jump high. But I probably won't hear them, to be honest. I'm concentrating on what I'm doing. It won't bother me in the slightest."
It was a surprising admission, given the tribute paid by so many British athletes to the importance of the crowd. But Grabarz is not here to be part of any national sporting festival. He is here to win.
Grabarz did not know, when he was speaking on Friday morning, that Britain had risen to fourth on the medal table. "That's news to me," he said when asked for his reaction, "so it's quite good. I don't really watch sport so I haven't seen any of it. It's nice to find out things like that, little surprises. It's not that I don't care, it's just that I don't watch. I'd rather read a book."
During training camps Grabarz can read a book each day, but his main pleasure is cars. Last year he very nearly stopped athletics when he was offered his "dream job": the chance to restore a private collection of classic Ferraris. It was a difficult decision, coming after a disappointing year in which he lost his Lottery funding after poor performances.
"It was after my last competition," Grabarz recalled. "I knew funding was going. I knew it was a s*** year. I was letting myself just go through the motions, I wasn't applying myself. The offer was on the plate to leave. I sat back and thought, 'Which one do I really love and which one do I want to excel in?' This is the one I've chosen."
But now Grabarz is jumping higher than ever before, ranked second in the world and the new European champion. He puts this radical improvement down to a to new-found focus: "I'm my biggest competitor. High jump is a head game. The battle is against me and the bar, no one else."
Grabarz compared the change to flicking a switch. "I've always believed I was good enough to be where I am at the moment. I'd had enough and it was make or break time. I said to myself ,'Do you really want to do this any more? And if you do, apply yourself'. You just have to turn it on and say, 'I do want this. I'm capable of having it' and just prepare yourself to give 100 per cent. I made some good decisions and I'm reaping the benefits."
The improvement has been perfectly timed. Grabarz is jumping higher than ever, winning "the head game" with himself which is the essence of his sport. Some might suggest that this the fulfilment of some long plan, peaking for the London Games. "To be honest, it didn't even cross my mind," said Grabarz, caring only about performance, and never about pageantry. "It just happens to be quite a good year to be 24 years old. That's it. It's a coincidence."
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